Stressed? Meditation Changes Your Genes

Meditation changes gene expression involved with immune system and stress

(RxWiki News) Taking care of an aging loved one can be stressful. Also, caregivers often do not have extra time to concentrate on their own health. Meditation practices may help, and they take less time than you think.

A new study suggests that 12 minutes of meditation daily may actually change genes involved with stress and the immune system.

The changes in gene expression may help counteract the negative health impacts of stress on caregivers of dementia patients.

"Learn simple meditation exercises."

"We know that chronic stress places caregivers at a higher risk for developing depression," said Helen Lavretsky, MD, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

"On average, the incidence and prevalence of clinical depression in family dementia caregivers approaches 50 percent. Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress."

The researchers had 45 dementia caregivers participate in the study. Half of participants were taught a simple 12 minute meditation practice called Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM). These participants did the exercises every day for eight weeks.

The other half of participants were asked to sit in a quiet place and listen to relaxing music for 12 minutes every day for eight weeks.

Blood samples were taken at the beginning and end of the eight week period in order to determine gene expression of the participants.

The researchers found that those who had been doing the KKM meditation exercises had modified gene expressions, while the group that listened to music did not.

Sixty-eight genes were found to be different after the meditation. The modified genes involved the body’s inflammation response and ability to fight off bacteria and viral infections.

"This is encouraging news. Caregivers often don't have the time, energy, or contacts that could bring them a little relief from the stress of taking care of a loved one with dementia, so practicing a brief form of yogic meditation, which is easy to learn, is a useful tool," adds Lavretsky.

The study authors note that more research is necessary to directly measure how immune system function and health outcomes are affected by KKM.

The study was published online July 13, 2012, in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology and was funded by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation. Helen Lavretsky received grant funding from the Forest Research Institute and is a consultant to the Lilly and Dey Pharmaceutical Companies.

Review Date: 
August 27, 2012