US study unravels molecular mechanism behind meditation – Deccan Herald

Intense meditation helps activate the human immune system and positively affects multiple biological processes involved in disease development, a group of researchers from the USA stated in a study, unravelling the molecular link between meditation and human well-being.
While benefits of yoga and meditation are well documented, the team led by Vijayendran Chandrana, an assistant professor of paediatrics and neuroscience with the University of Florida, College of Medicine, has discovered the immunity-boosting molecular mechanism underlying the traditional Indian practice.
Ten researchers from the medical schools of four US universities and a yoga and meditation centre were involved in what may be the first comprehensive genomic study of how meditation affects the biological processes directly involved in disease development.
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“We show that yoga and meditative practices enhance immune function without activating inflammatory signals. The study demonstrates that non-pharmaceutical interventions like yoga and meditation can voluntarily influence the immune system.” Chandran told DH.
The scientists minutely studied the gene-protein interactions in 106 individuals who were at a residential meditation retreat at the Isha Institute of Inner Sciences, Tennessee, in April 2018, during which they remained entirely silent for eight days and performed more than 10 hours of meditation each day. They were also on a strict vegan diet and followed a regular sleep cycle.
Blood samples from retreat participants were collected five to eight weeks in advance, then just before and after the retreat, as well as three months later. The genomic analysis found alteration of several immune-related and other cellular pathways after the meditation retreat.
Among them were key immune systems and related pathways that were dramatically upregulated without activating the inflammatory signals. On the other hand, the response to oxidative stress, detoxification, and cell cycle regulation pathways was downregulated after meditation.
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Suppression of oxidative stress, as well as inflammation, is one of the central strategies for treating various diseases and is considered to be of advantage for cancer prevention. Oxidative stress played an essential role in causing chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer, he said.
The team, with researchers from the medical schools of Indiana University, University of Louisville and the University of Pittsburgh, also reported that 220 genes associated with immune response, including 68 genes involved in interferon signaling, were upregulated by meditation. Interferons are proteins that trigger the immune cells to fight viruses and cancer cells in the body.
At the same time, they found “no significant expression changes” in the inflammatory genes. “Inflammation plays a vital role in healing, but chronic inflammation may increase the risk of various diseases, including some forms of cancers and rheumatoid arthritis. We show that the meditative practice enhanced immune function without activating inflammatory signals,” he said.
Asked whether prolonged sleep or inactivity would herald similar changes in the body, Chandran said, “The enhanced immune system after the retreat is primarily due to meditation and not diet, sleep patterns or gender differences.”
Essentially, meditation uses a coordinated network of core genes and regulators to unleash a positive effect on the immune system, the researchers found.
The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this week.

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