Thursday, November 06, 2014

Meditation, Support Groups: Clear New Evidence for Mind-Body Connection Demonstrated in Study, Researchers Show

There has actually been evidence for a few years now that meditation and some forms of interpersonal relational experience can increase (or stop the decrease in) telomere length. "A telomere is the region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromatid, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighbouring chromosomes" (Wikipedia) - the shorter the telomeres, the more "aging" the body has experienced through oxidative stress and other forms of deteriorative processes. Telomere dysfunction or shortening is commonly acquired during the process of tumor development. Other research has found that those with longer telomeres live longer, healthier lives.

I guess this is first time someone has looked at this in terms of breast cancer and meditation.

Meditation, support groups: Clear new evidence for mind-body connection demonstrated in study, researchers show

Date: November 3, 2014
Source: Alberta Health Services
For the first time, researchers have shown that practising mindfulness meditation or being involved in a support group has a positive physical impact at the cellular level in breast cancer survivors.
A group working out of Alberta Health Services' Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the University of Calgary Department of Oncology has demonstrated that telomeres -- protein complexes at the end of chromosomes -- maintain their length in breast cancer survivors who practise meditation or are involved in support groups, while they shorten in a comparison group without any intervention.

Although the disease-regulating properties of telomeres aren't fully understood, shortened telomeres are associated with several disease states, as well as cell aging, while longer telomeres are thought to be protective against disease.

"We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology," says Dr. Linda E. Carlson, PhD, principal investigator and director of research in the Psychosocial Resources Department at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

"It was surprising that we could see any difference in telomere length at all over the three-month period studied," says Dr. Carlson, who is also a U of C professor in the Faculty of Arts and the Cumming School of Medicine, and a member of the Southern Alberta Cancer Institute. "Further research is needed to better quantify these potential health benefits, but this is an exciting discovery that provides encouraging news."

The study was published online in the journal Cancer.

A total of 88 breast cancer survivors who had completed their treatments for at least three months were involved for the duration of the study. The average age was 55 and most participants had ended treatment two years prior. To be eligible, they also had to be experiencing significant levels of emotional distress.

In the Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery group, participants attended eight weekly, 90-minute group sessions that provided instruction on mindfulness meditation and gentle Hatha yoga, with the goal of cultivating non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. Participants were also asked to practise meditation and yoga at home for 45 minutes daily.

In the Supportive Expressive Therapy group, participants met for 90 minutes weekly for 12 weeks and were encouraged to talk openly about their concerns and their feelings. The objectives were to build mutual support and to guide women in expressing a wide range of both difficult and positive emotions, rather than suppressing or repressing them.

The participants randomly placed in the control group attended one, six-hour stress management seminar.

All study participants had their blood analysed and telomere length measured before and after the interventions.

Scientists have shown a short-term effect of these interventions on telomere length compared to a control group, but it's not known if the effects are lasting. Dr. Carlson says another avenue for further research is to see if the psychosocial interventions have a positive impact beyond the three months of the study period.

Allison McPherson was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. When she joined the study, she was placed in the mindfulness-based cancer recovery group. Today, she says that experience has been life-changing.

"I was skeptical at first and thought it was a bunch of hocus-pocus," says McPherson, who underwent a full year of chemotherapy and numerous surgeries. "But I now practise mindfulness throughout the day and it's reminded me to become less reactive and kinder toward myself and others."

Study participant Deanne David was also placed in the mindfulness group.

"Being part of this made a huge difference to me," she says. "I think people involved in their own cancer journey would benefit from learning more about mindfulness and connecting with others who are going through the same things."

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Alberta Health Services. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

Linda E. Carlson, Tara L. Beattie, Janine Giese-Davis, Peter Faris, Rie Tamagawa, Laura J. Fick, Erin S. Degelman, Michael Speca. (2014, Nov 3). Mindfulness-based cancer recovery and supportive-expressive therapy maintain telomere length relative to controls in distressed breast cancer survivors. Cancer; DOI: 10.1002/cncr.29063

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Mindfulness-based cancer recovery and supportive-expressive therapy maintain telomere length relative to controls in distressed breast cancer survivors

Linda E. Carlson, Tara L. Beattie, Janine Giese-Davis, Peter Faris, Rie Tamagawa, Laura J. Fick, Erin S. Degelman, and Michael Speca


Group psychosocial interventions including mindfulness-based cancer recovery (MBCR) and supportive-expressive group therapy (SET) can help breast cancer survivors decrease distress and influence cortisol levels. Although telomere length (TL) has been associated with breast cancer prognosis, the impact of these two interventions on TL has not been studied to date.


The objective of the current study was to compare the effects of MBCR and SET with a minimal intervention control condition (a 1-day stress management seminar) on TL in distressed breast cancer survivors in a randomized controlled trial. MBCR focused on training in mindfulness meditation and gentle Hatha yoga whereas SET focused on emotional expression and group support. The primary outcome measure was relative TL, the telomere/single-copy gene ratio, assessed before and after each intervention. Secondary outcomes were self-reported mood and stress symptoms.

Eighty-eight distressed breast cancer survivors with a diagnosis of stage I to III cancer (using the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM staging system) who had completed treatment at least 3 months prior participated. Using analyses of covariance on a per-protocol sample, there were no differences noted between the MBCR and SET groups with regard to the telomere/single-copy gene ratio, but a trend effect was observed between the combined intervention group and controls (F [1,84], 3.82; P = .054; η2  = .043); TL in the intervention group was maintained whereas it was found to decrease for control participants. There were no associations noted between changes in TL and changes in mood or stress scores over time.


Psychosocial interventions providing stress reduction and emotional support resulted in trends toward TL maintenance in distressed breast cancer survivors, compared with decreases in usual care. 
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