Meditation may alter the expression of genes linked to inflammation and promote a faster recovery from a stressful situation, according to a new study published in the journal, “Psychoneuroendocrinology.”
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison took blood samples from 40 volunteers — 19 were longterm meditators — before and after an eight-hour session. The group of experienced meditators spent the session in guided and unguided meditation, while the other group watched documentaries, read and played computer games.
While there was no significant difference in genetic markers between the two groups at the start of the eight-hour test period, at the end of the day, researchers found reduced expression of certain histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes and of the genes RIPK2 and COX2 — all of which are linked to inflammation, the report stated.
“The changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic [pain-relief] drugs,” said Perla Kaliman, lead author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain.
In a stress test, the volunteers performed an impromptu public-speaking role involving mental arithmetic performed in front of two judges and a video camera. Levels of cortisol — a hormone associated with high stress levels — were measured before and after the stress test. Among both groups of volunteers, those participants with the lowest levels of RIPK2 and HDAC genes had the quickest return to normal, pre-stress test levels of cortisol.
“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,” said study co-author Richard J. Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the statement.
Additionally, there was no difference in the tested genes between the two groups of people at the start of the study. The observed effects were seen only in the meditators following mindfulness practice.