August 30, 2016
Deepak in the News

Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

by E S Epel, E Puterman, J Lin, E H Blackburn, P Y Lum, N D Beckmann, J Zhu, E Lee, A Gilbert, R A Rissman, R E Tanzi and E E Schadt



Meditation is becoming increasingly practiced, especially for stress-related medical conditions. Meditation may improve cellular health; however, studies have not separated out effects of meditation from vacation-like effects in a residential randomized controlled trial. We recruited healthy women non-meditators to live at a resort for 6 days and randomized to either meditation retreat or relaxing on-site, with both groups compared with ‘regular meditators’ already enrolled in the retreat. Blood drawn at baseline and post intervention was assessed for transcriptome-wide expression patterns and aging-related biomarkers. Highly significant gene expression changes were detected across all groups (the ‘vacation effect’) that could accurately predict (96% accuracy) between baseline and post-intervention states and were characterized by improved regulation of stress response, immune function and amyloid beta (Aβ) metabolism. Although a smaller set of genes was affected, regular meditators showed post-intervention differences in a gene network characterized by lower regulation of protein synthesis and viral genome activity. Changes in well-being were assessed post intervention relative to baseline, as well as 1 and 10 months later. All groups showed equivalently large immediate post-intervention improvements in well-being, but novice meditators showed greater maintenance of lower distress over time compared with those in the vacation arm. Regular meditators showed a trend toward increased telomerase activity compared with randomized women, who showed increased plasma Aβ42/Aβ40 ratios and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) levels. This highly controlled residential study showed large salutary changes in gene expression networks due to the vacation effect, common to all groups. For those already trained in the practice of meditation, a retreat appears to provide additional benefits to cellular health beyond the vacation effect.



Ancient practices such as yoga and meditation have long been thought to combat stress and promote longevity, although empirical evidence for effects on aging processes under highly controlled experimental conditions is lacking. Further, it is inherently difficult to assess effects of meditation apart from simple relaxation. Advances in the understanding of the biological bases of aging enable better assessment of acute effects of salutary interventions on biomarkers of aging. For example, impaired regulatory systems leading to systemic inflammation, and excessive stress responsivity, are related to biological aging and may partly underlie pathogenesis of cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s diseases (AD). More recent systems biology approaches have identified gene regulatory networks associated with a diversity of biological processes, including immune and stress responses, and objectively linked them with disease or salutary states.

Integrated systems biology approaches can identify gene regulatory networks, such as immune, stress and other regulatory responses, and link them with physiologic states. This bioinformatics approach provides an unbiased view of the immune system profile, and can be linked to changes in environmental conditions. These network approaches, while often applied to identifying disease profiles, can be used to identify salutary states as well, such as that which might result from intensive meditation. In addition to high-dimensional molecular data such as gene networks, blood-based biomarkers can provide an integrated overview that indexes biological aging. Telomere length predicts both cellular health and disease in rodent models and humans. Shorter telomeres predict onset of cardiometabolic diseases of aging. Chronic stress is associated with higher inflammation, shorter telomeres, and lower activity levels of telomerase, the cellular enzyme that elongates telomeric DNA Levels of amyloid beta (Aβ) proteins circulating in the blood appear to be stress-related in rodent models and may be affected by stress reduction, and greater Aβ42/Aβ40 ratios are associated with lower risk of dementia.

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  3. Jessie Wilson

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