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Mind-Body Practices Can Reduce Expression of Inflammation-Related Genes

July 31, 2015

In a review of 26 randomized controlled trials conducted by the researchers Julienne E. Bower, PhD, and Michel R. Irwin, MD, at UCLA, mind-body practices (MBPs) such as Tai Chi, Qigong, yoga, and meditation have been found to reduce the expression of inflammation-related genes.

The benefits of mind-body practices (MBPs) such as Tai Chi, Qigong, yoga, and meditation are becoming more evident from scientific research. MBPs have been defined as practices that emphasize integrating the brain and the body to assist in physical, psychological and spiritual healing. The MBPs that have been considerable research attention include Tai Chi, Qigong, yoga, and meditation.

  • Tai Chi and Qigong are practices from traditional Chinese medicine that combine specific movements or postures, coordinated breathing, and mental focus.
  • Yoga originates from ancient Indian philosophy and it typically includes physical postures, breathing, and meditation or relaxation.
  • Meditation refers to a broad range of practices that involve training the mind, typically by focusing one’s attention on one point, such as the breath or sounds, with openness, curiosity, and non-judgment.

In a review of 26 randomized controlled trials conducted by the researchers Julienne E. Bower, PhD, and Michel R. Irwin, MD, at UCLA, MBPs have been found to reduce the expression of inflammation-related genes. The biological process of inflammation affects every individual at varying degrees. Inflammation is the body’s self-defensive mechanism to eradicate harmful stimuli such as irritants, pathogens, and damaged cells. The inflammation system is also activated by psychological stress, diet, and poor sleep quality and deprivation. Acute inflammation can sometimes resolve the problem, such as in the case of a minor injury, but it may also lead to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been highly associated with diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, and depression.

While our genes can affect our health and how we interact with our environment, according to epigenetics research, lifestyle habits and significant life events can affect how our genes are expressed by turning genetic markers on or off. The researchers found that inflammatory gene expression was consistently reduced and inflammatory gene expression reversed in MBP groups in the studies. Their studies suggest that MBPs reduce pro-inflammatory transcription factor NF-κB and increase activity of the anti-inflammatory glucocorticoid receptors.

The results from the review suggest that the anti-inflammatory effects of MBPs can be reflected even on the genetic level. Next steps in research on MBPs include determining how to maintain these practices and to examine longer term effects on inflammation and health.

Click here to access the full article on the journal for Brain, Behavior and Immunity


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  • UCLA Health