Thursday, August 29, 2013

Meditation factoids - enhancement of “good” genes expression, smoking reduction

Herbert Benson (of "relaxation response" fame) and collaborators have offered a study suggesting that meditation or relaxation down regulates expression of genes involved in inflammation and HPA stress axis (fight or flight) responses. Beneficial changes in genes regulating mitochondrial energy metabolism and insulin production were also noted. Here is their technical abstract:
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.
The second item: Posner and collaborators find that brief meditation training induces smoking reduction
More than 5 million deaths a year are attributable to tobacco smoking, but attempts to help people either quit or reduce their smoking often fail, perhaps in part because the intention to quit activates brain networks related to craving. We recruited participants interested in general stress reduction and randomly assigned them to meditation training or a relaxation training control. Among smokers, 2 wk of meditation training (5 h in total) produced a significant reduction in smoking of 60%; no reduction was found in the relaxation control. Resting-state brain scans showed increased activity for the meditation group in the anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex, brain areas related to self-control. These results suggest that brief meditation training improves self-control capacity and reduces smoking.


  1. Those are some pretty fascinating studies, particularly the one about gene expression. I wonder if meditation might work to improve fluid intelligence by the same path ascribed to creatine, which in some studies has similar effects: that is, improvement of energy production within nerve cells.

    Regarding the subject of the second study: Are you familiar with other studies that demonstrate a connection between willpower and meditation? I'm currently looking into that topic.

  2. Willpower and meditation.... I would start by googling that phrase, I don't immediately think of any focused research on just that issue.