Relaxation Response May Protect Against Stress
> 7/7/2008 9:29:05 AM

New research appearing in the journal PLoS One may change the way many people view meditation, yoga, and other stress-relieving techniques. In examining the biological effects of relaxation methods, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital have discovered that these actions may be able to alter the activity of genes involved in the stress response.

The study involved two groups of subjects: 19 long-time practitioners of a relaxation method, such as meditation, yoga, repetitive prayer, breathing exercises, tai chi, and Qigong, and 19 matched controls who had no prior experience with any of these activities. Using blood samples, the researchers analyzed the genetic backgrounds of all of the subjects. The 19 control subjects were then taught a relaxation method and, after eight weeks of training, received a second genetic evaluation.

This experimental design allowed the researchers to observe differences in genetic expression— whether a specific gene was suppressed or activated— among the subgroups of their sample. During the first analysis, they found that long-time practitioners had different patterns of activation compared to controls, and the second analysis revealed that control subjects also experienced changes in genetic expression after undergoing relaxation training. While some of these distinct genetic patterns occurred only among long-time practitioners, other patterns were found among those who had been training for years as well as among control subjects with only eight weeks of practice behind them. Working on a meditative technique can contribute to improvements in physical and mental health over time, but these results indicate that even short-term use of these activities can induce genetic changes.

Previous research has shown that stress can also change genetic activity, although stress-related alterations can be damaging to the body. The relaxation response, on the other hand, affected genes that had been involved in harmful processes, such as inflammation, cell death, and the regulation of free radicals, preventing these genes from continuing their actions. Not surprisingly, relaxation also has a beneficial effect on physical markers of health, such as blood pressure and heart rate, and any relaxation technique (they all resulted in a similar state of deep calm and restfulness) might be effective at reversing some of the biological consequences of stress.

This study was small, and more research is needed to more fully examine the value of relaxation methods in the treatment of mental and physical health problems. However, these findings have demonstrated the extent to which mental and physical effects can intertwine, and by using meditation, yoga, and other techniques to reach therapeutic goals, many individuals may be able to manage stress and take steps toward improving their overall well-being.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy