Christopher Bergland’s articlePsychology Today: Meditation Has the Power to Influence Your GenesMeditation can alter genes linked to inflammation, stress, and pain relief.
"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.
The study compared the effects of a single day of intensive mindfulness practice between a group of experienced meditators and a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After an intensive day of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a dramatic range of genetic and molecular differences.
Meditation was found to alter levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation. "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 in Spain, where the molecular analyses were conducted.
Although one group were experienced meditators, the researchers were surprised to find that there was no difference in the tested genes between the two groups of people at the beginning of the study. The observed effects were seen only in the meditators following mindfulness practice. In addition, several other DNA-modifying genes showed no differences between groups, suggesting that the intensive mindfulness session specifically affected certain regulatory pathways.
In past studies, mindfulness-based training has been shown to have beneficial effects on inflammatory disorders. Meditation is endorsed by the American Heart Association as an effective way to lower your risk for heart disease which is the leading cause of death in the United States. The new results provide a possible explanation for the biological mechanism behind the therapeutic benefits of meditation.
Source: The degree to which some of these genes were downregulated was associated with faster cortisol recovery to a social stress test which involved making mental calculations, public speaking, and performing other impromptu tasks in front of an audience and video camera.
Meditation Produces Powerful Pain-Relief
article continues after advertisementAnother study from April 2011 found that meditation produces powerful pain-relieving effects in the brain. The findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
At the time, Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center said, "This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation."
Zeidan said, "We found a big effect—about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent."
Source: During brain scans, a pain-inducing heat device was placed on the participants' right legs. This device heated a small area of their skin to 120° Fahrenheit, a temperature that most people find painful, over a 5-minute period. "The scans taken after meditation training showed that every participant's pain ratings were reduced, with decreases ranging from 11 to 93 percent," Zeidan said.
At the same time, meditation significantly reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, a brain area that is involved in creating the feeling of the locatin and intensity of a painful stimulus. The scans taken before meditation training showed activity in this area was very high. However, when participants were meditating during the scans, activity in this pain-processing region could not be detected.