21 Jun Does Meditation Reverse Aging? Looking at Scientific Evidence Part I
Dr. Shanthi Lakshmi Duraimani, Ph.D., Bangalore
A growing body of research supports the immediate benefits of meditation, such as reduced stress and anxiety levels, lower blood pressure, and enhanced happiness. Studies on mindfulness interventions show these effects are common in as few as eight weeks. While these initial perks may be reason enough for us to practice, meditation’s positive impact appears to be even more far-reaching, potentially adding years to our lives and improving cognitive function well into old age.
The genome and epigenetics are beginning to reveal more about how meditation works. Scientists have isolated length of telomeres and telomerase as indicators of cellular aging. Our cells contain chromosomes or sequences of DNA. Telomeres are short segments of DNA which mark the ends of every chromosome, playing a significant role against the wear and tear. In time, they shorten with each cell division, finally becoming too short to protect the chromosome, leading the cell to malfunction and the body to age. As a conclusion, it seems logic that if we find a way to manipulate and sustain the integrity of these telomeres, it would obviously greatly impact on the human lifespan, avoiding the inevitable cellular aging process.
Small group of scientists around the world have found that meditation increases the telomere and thereby reverse aging. In 2014, Deepak Chopra research team tested the effects of intensive meditation by assessing the activity of genes spanning the entire human genome. The study was conducted at a retreat at the Chopra Centre located in Carlsbad, California, just outside San Diego.
Sixty-four healthy women were randomly assigned either to a meditation retreat or to a relaxation retreat only, excluding learning to meditate. Serving as controls for the study, the relaxation retreat group would basically spend the time just being on vacation. During the week, blood samples were collected from both the groups and measured for aging-related biomarkers.
In addition, any changes in psychological and spiritual well-being were also assessed, not only over the week but continuing up to ten months afterward. By day five, both groups actually underwent significant improvements in their mental health and beneficial changes in their gene activities, including lower activity response. In the control group, the beneficial changes could be attributed to something termed the “vacation effect,” in which stress levels are minimized and the genes that usually deal with stress and of genes involved in defensive stress and immune injury can “take a rest.”The body acts as if all is well and can turn all those stress responses genes down.
There are other genetic changes occurred in the meditation group that did not happen in the controls. For example, there was two-to-three- fold suppression of a gene activity associated with viral infection and wound healing. There were also beneficial changes in the genes associated with risk for Alzheimer’s disease. These changes suggest that it would be more difficult for the meditators to experience a viral infection while at the same time their systems were less concerned about the need to heal wounds or tend to injury.
The most astonishing result specifically found in the meditators was a dramatic increase in the anti-aging activity of telomerase. It is thought, with considerable supporting research, that increased telomerase, the enzyme that binds telomeres, might significantly retard aging.
Super Genes: The hidden key to total well-being by Deepak Chopra, Rudolph E.Tanzi.