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Genetic considerations in Mindfulness

Welcome back to our weekly StudyStream blog, where we discuss aspects of mindfulness, health and wellbeing. We have been focussing the past few weeks on the mechanisms of mindfulness, and why or how mindfulness may produce some of the effects that it does. So far, we have covered the rhythm of paying attention, and how this may influence our nervous system, our stress & immune response, and the structure of our brains, including how we perceive and experience pain. Today we will discuss our final topic for this series — mindfulness can change your genes. Let’s get started!

Mindfulness & Your Genes

As we have mentioned in earlier blogs, science has shown that mindfulness can change the way our body handles stress, including how our immune function works. Perhaps as a result of this altered stress response, there is relatively early and yet exciting research that practicing mindfulness can influence our genes.

understanding genetic interactions with our body

Genes are the part of our body, located in each of our cells in the form of DNA, that are responsible for deciding what types of cells and chemicals get created in our body. Genes can also be turned on and off. One simple example might be that when you are stressed or physically hurt, genes involved in creating the inflammatory response get turned on, so that certain cells and chemicals involved in inflammation can get created.

can meditation have an impact?

One interesting study has shown that practicing meditation can help to retain the length of telomeres in our chromosomes. Telomeres are present at the end of each of our DNA strands and prevent the DNA from damage, in the same way that the plastic tip at the end of shoelaces prevents it from fraying. Over time, the length of the telomeres usually decreases, and this is thought to contribute to the ageing process and general breakdown of different body functions. There are a number of studies which have shown that in experienced meditators, the telomere length is retained compared to a non-meditation control group.

could practicing mindfulness cause us to live longer?

Furthermore, an enzyme called telomerase — which is normally involved in protecting and retaining the telomere length — has also been shown to be increased in experienced meditators. This has excited a lot of researchers because it has opened up a lot of pathways to discover more about why and how the mind is linked to the body. Could practicing mindfulness cause us to live longer? And could mindfulness ‘turn off’ problem genes involved in cell breakdown, inflammation and ageing, and similarly ‘activate’ or ‘turn on’ genes involved in cell regeneration and healing? A recent exploratory study found 1771 genes that were regulated by meditation, including genes involved in immune regulatory pathways, cell metabolism, and circadian rhythm.

an exciting navigation of uncertainty

Researchers are not really sure why practicing meditation can cause this change in our genes, but as we have stated, it may be linked to the stress response. If our body is in a more natural rhythm, it is possible that this then causes certain genes to be turned on and off through the normal processes of our body.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for next week when we will continue our weekly blog on a new, fresh topic. And remember to tune in to our live and free mindfulness sessions every Mon, Wed and Fri at 19:30pm BST in our StudyStream library with expert mindfulness teachers. We look forward to seeing you there!

Check our the following links below to find out more about the science mentioned in this blog:

You can check out the most recent research on meditation and telomere length here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31903785/

More on meditation and gene changes:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/

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Experience-driven learning, shaped by collaborative environments.

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