Can Meditation Alter Human DNA?

Meditation has many benefits. It’s been shown to calm the mind, reduce stress, improve mood, concentration and help with getting better, more restful sleep. Now, research has discovered that the simple act of meditation may also physically change your DNA, and this could be good news for people at risk of developing cancer.

A new study, published in the Canadian journal Cancer, found that telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, experienced physical changes--becoming longer--after mindfulness meditation, a specific type of meditation. While shorter telomeres aren't always a sign that there’s an underlying health issue, like cancer, they do have a correlation with diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, whereas longer telomeres are less often associated with these illnesses.

And the study was looking specifically at cancer—88 breast cancer survivors. The test subjects were broken up into three groups that included mindfulness meditation and yoga in group one, group therapy in the second, and a control group only receiving a 6-hour stress management course. The subjects had their telomere lengths measured (through a blood test) both before and after the experiments.

The researchers found that the survivors in the group experiencing the mindfulness meditation practice, were also associated with the increased telomere length.

Mindfulness meditation is a Buddhist-style of mediation, “in which practitioners focus on present thoughts and actions in a non-judgmental way, ignoring past grudges and future concerns,” reports Scientific American.

Meditation has been connected to other impressive physical changes, too, Scientific American explains: 

study led by diet and lifestyle guru Dr. Dean Ornish from 2008 reported that the combination of a vegan diet, stress management, aerobic exercise and participation in a support group for 3 months resulted in increased telomerase activity in men with prostate cancer, telomerase being the enzyme that maintains telomeres by adding DNA to the ends of our chromosomes. More recent work looking at meditation reported similar findings. And though small and un-randomized, a 2013 follow up study by Ornish, again looking at prostate cancer patients, found that lifestyle interventions are associated with longer telomeres.

Even if the extended telomeres from the study turn out to be simply a coincidence, with so many benefits to meditation, it’s worth exploring as part of a healthy lifestyle either way.


Image: jocelynyan1 


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