Mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi don't simply relax us; they can 'reverse' the molecular reactions in our DNA which cause ill-health and depression, according to a study by the Universities of Coventry and Radboud. The research, published online on June 16, 2017 in Frontiers in Immunology, reviews over a decade of studies analyzing how the behavior of our genes is affected by different MBIs including mindfulness and yoga. The open-access review article is titled “What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind–Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices.” Experts from the universities conclude that, when examined together, the 18 studies -- featuring 846 participants over 11 years -- reveal a pattern in the molecular changes that happen to the body as a result of MBIs, and how those changes benefit our mental and physical health. The researchers focus on how gene expression is affected; in other words, the way that genes activate to produce proteins which influence the biological make-up of the body, the brain, and the immune system. When a person is exposed to a stressful event, their sympathetic nervous system (SNS) -- the system responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response -- is triggered, in turn increasing production of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) which regulates how our genes are expressed. NF-kB translates stress by activating genes to produce proteins called cytokines that cause inflammation at cellular level -- a reaction that is useful as a short-lived fight-or-flight reaction, but if persistent leads to a higher risk of cancer, accelerated aging, and psychiatric disorders like depression.
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