Saturday, March 12, 2011

Can Meditation Boost Immune Cell Function?

Meditation is linked to higher telomerase activity.
(Photo © Matthew Wakem)

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, it can certainly help.

The study, called The Shamatha Project, is the first to link the positive psychological effects of meditation to higher telomerase activity. Telomerase is an enzyme that can rebuild and lengthen telomeres—sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes that are important for the genetic stability of our cells. Telomeres get shorter every time a cell divides, and when they become too short, the cell eventually dies. (Other scientific research has shown that shortened telomeres can indicate a higher risk for certain types of cancer as well as decreased survival in patients with coronary heart disease and infectious disease.)

The good news? Participants of The Shamatha Project who completed three-month intensive meditation training exhibited increased telomerase activity in their white blood cells, about one-third higher compared to those in a control group who did not meditate. Researchers also observed various positive psychological effects in the meditators, such as perceived control over one’s life and surroundings; being able to observe one’s experience in a nonreactive manner; viewing one’s life as meaningful, worthwhile, and aligned with long-term goals and values; and decreased negative emotions like neuroticism. Using statistical modeling techniques, researchers concluded that high telomerase activity was in fact due to these aforementioned effects.

“The take-home message from this work is not that meditation directly increases telomerase activity and therefore a person’s health and longevity,” said Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain. “Rather, meditation may improve a person’s psychological well-being and in turn these changes are related to telomerase activity in immune cells, which has the potential to promote longevity in those cells.”

So take some time to meditate. Your cells will thank you for it.


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