Mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as Tai Chi, yoga, and meditation have grown in popularity because of their relaxation effects. However, a new study reveals that MBIs do not just have the capability to relax the mind but can actually protect and reverse the way our DNA reacts to stress.
In a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, researchers found that MBIs don't just simply promote relaxation, they actually have the capability to alter the way our DNA reacts to stress. By "reversing" the way our DNA reacts to stressors, our bodies are essentially more protected from physical and mental illnesses.
Fight Or Flight Reversed
By analyzing 18 previous studies on MBIs from the past 11 years, researchers were able to reveal the pattern of molecular changes in our body that happens as a result of engaging in MBIs and how they are beneficial to our mind and body.
Specifically, researchers focused on the way our genes react when exposed to stressors. Normally, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is responsible for the "fight-or-flight" response, gets triggered and increases the production of proteins, which induce inflammation at a cellular level.
This reaction is merely short-lived and useful for the basic "fight-or-flight" reaction, but prolonged exposure can lead to higher risks of cancer, faster aging, and mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.
On the other hand, people who regularly practice MBIs experience something quite different. Apart from exhibiting fewer signs of inflammation, people who engage in MBIs show a decrease in the inflammatory protein, which signifies the reversal of the molecular signs of chronic stress.
Essentially, due to the reduced amount of inflammation, they may also have reduced risks for inflammation-related diseases in both mind and body.
That's not saying that inflammation is such a bad thing, as it is an important part of human survival when it comes to dangerous situations or fighting off infections. However, in a consistently stressful environment, what was meant to be a temporary immunity boost could lead to increased risks in physical and mental problems.
What the research suggests is that perhaps the simple acts of mindfulness in the form of MBIs alter not just the way we react externally but also how our bodies react on a molecular level.
To clarify, researchers admit that this is a fairly new field of study and that these benefits may also be achieved through other positive lifestyle changes, but as it stands, currently existing studies suggest that MBIs steer our DNA toward an improved well-being.
"Even just 15 minutes of practicing mindfulness seems to do the trick," said Ivana Buric, PhD student from Coventry University in Britain, and lead author of the study.