The University of Wisconsin-Madison has provided the first evidence of specific molecular changes in the body following a period of mindfulness meditation.
Researchers from Spain, France, and Wisconsin have reported that the effects of a single day of intensive mindfulness meditation can change our genes. The study, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, showed that after eight hours of mindfulness practice, meditators showed a range of genetic expression changes, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which means that people could recover from stress and its physical ramifications much faster than previously thought possible.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,” says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS), where the molecular analyses were conducted.
“The results show a down-regulation of genes that have been implicated in inflammation. The affected genes include the pro-inflammatory genes RIPK2 and COX2 as well as several histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes, which regulate the activity of other genes epigenetically by removing a type of chemical tag. What’s more, the extent to which some of those genes were downregulated was associated with faster cortisol recovery to a social stress test involving an impromptu speech and tasks requiring mental calculations performed in front of an audience and video camera.”
The analgesic drug market in the US alone amounts to over $2.3 billion annually for pharmaceutical companies like Proctor & Gamble, and that’s just for over-the-counter drugs. Simply practicing meditation could eliminate the need for expensive and side effect-causing medication that can ruin the body’s natural immune response.
Meditation can help drive down health-care costs and provide a pleasurable way to reduce stress all at the same time.