The benefits of yoga for stress, trauma, and depression have been studied and documented. Now, researchers from the universities of Coventry and Radboud have found that not only does yoga and meditation even reverses molecular reactions in DNA that causes those very mental health issues.
In the study, published this month in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, practices like yoga, meditation, tai chi, and mindfulness were grouped into the single classification of Mind-body interventions (MBI). The study looked at the research from 18 other studies conducted over 11 years on how MBIs affect and benefit mental and physical health.
Stress affects the body negatively by causing the sympathetic nervous system to increase the production of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB), a molecule which activates genes to produce cytokines which causes inflammation. Studies have shown that persistent inflammation at this cellular level can lead to a higher risk of cancer, accelerated aging, and depression.
A previous study has already show that yoga and meditation can reduce inflammation. This new study also shows that consistently practicing MBIs, the flight or fight response of the sympathetic nervous system is not triggered – and actually, the production of NF-kB is decreased – which reverses the effect of the inflammation-related disorders and illnesses caused by stress.
According to lead investigator, Ivana Buric, the flight or fight response was crucial to survival in evolutionary terms when humans had to face dangers from being prey and literally fight or fly (escape) in order to survive. In today’s world, however, the constant bombardment of stress is nothing like what prehistoric humans had to face. MBIs could be the key to giving evolution a boost to catch up to modern times.
“Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realize is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.
“These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our well being,” said Buric.
The researchers said more work needs to be conducted in order to better understand how MBIs positively affect DNA and if other healthy habits contribute to the benefits.