A recent post at Psych Central, by Traci Pedersen, offers a brief summary of a study from PLoS ONE on how the relaxation response can reduce inflammation, insulin levels, and energy metabolism - but her summary looks specifically at how meditation, as one means of inducing the relaxation response, can reduce the stress response that leads the body into the "fight or flight" mode.
Here is the abstract to the original article (available in full at the link), followed by the Psych Central article.
Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways
The relaxation response (RR) is the counterpart of the stress response. Millennia-old practices evoking the RR include meditation, yoga and repetitive prayer. Although RR elicitation is an effective therapeutic intervention that counteracts the adverse clinical effects of stress in disorders including hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and aging, the underlying molecular mechanisms that explain these clinical benefits remain undetermined. To assess rapid time-dependent (temporal) genomic changes during one session of RR practice among healthy practitioners with years of RR practice and also in novices before and after 8 weeks of RR training, we measured the transcriptome in peripheral blood prior to, immediately after, and 15 minutes after listening to an RR-eliciting or a health education CD. Both short-term and long-term practitioners evoked significant temporal gene expression changes with greater significance in the latter as compared to novices. RR practice enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways. Interactive network analyses of RR-affected pathways identified mitochondrial ATP synthase and insulin (INS) as top upregulated critical molecules (focus hubs) and NF-κB pathway genes as top downregulated focus hubs. Our results for the first time indicate that RR elicitation, particularly after long-term practice, may evoke its downstream health benefits by improving mitochondrial energy production and utilization and thus promoting mitochondrial resiliency through upregulation of ATPase and insulin function. Mitochondrial resiliency might also be promoted by RR-induced downregulation of NF-κB-associated upstream and downstream targets that mitigates stress.
Bhasin MK, Dusek JA, Chang B-H, Joseph MG, Denninger JW, et al. (2013) Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways. PLoS ONE 8(5): e62817. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062817
By TRACI PEDERSEN Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on May 4, 2013
A new study reveals that practitioners of meditation experience changes in gene expression that are the exact opposite of what occurs during the “flight or fight” stress response.
Specifically, genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion, and telomere maintenance are turned on, while those involved in inflammation are turned off.
These effects are more significant and consistent for long-term practitioners.
People who practice simple meditation aren’t “just relaxing,” explained the study’s senior author, Dr. Herbert Benson. Instead, they’re experiencing “a specific genomic response that counteracts the harmful genomic effects of stress.”
It’s been shown that repeating a yoga pose, prayer, or mantra while disregarding other thoughts protects against anxiety and depression as well as physical conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and types of cancer that are exacerbated by stress.
For the study, published in the open access journal PLoS One, researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Subjects trained 26 adults with no previous meditation experience for eight weeks.
The participants practiced deep breathing, repeated mantras, and learned to ignore intrusive thoughts.
At first, they were given blood tests immediately before and 15 minutes after listening to a 20-minute health education CD. This was repeated after their training, except this time with a CD that guided them through meditation. Twenty-five other individuals, who had long-term experience in evoking the relaxation response, were tested as well.
All of the subjects’ blood samples revealed changes in gene expression following meditation. The changes were the exact opposite of what occurs during flight or fight. In the long-term practitioners, the effects were more pronounced and consistent.
Although the study only explored one way of reaching a relaxation response, people have been figuring this out for themselves for thousands of years, through yoga, prayer, and other forms of meditation.
This is the first time, however, that researchers have been able to show that these practices actually produce a change in gene expression.
The findings show that the effects of the relaxation response become stronger with practice, typically twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes. “Do it for years,” said Benson, “and then these effects are quite powerful in how they change your gene activity.”
Source: PLoS ONE