Meditation is an effective behavioral intervention for treating various conditions associated with a weakened immune system, according to new research led by the University of Florida.
“Yoga and meditation are holistic disciplines that integrate both mental and physical methods for human well-being,” said Dr. Vijayendran Chandran from the College of Medicine and McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida and his colleagues.
“These practices are growing in popularity worldwide, and according to a recent national health survey, 14% of the adult United States population used yoga or meditation within the previous year.”
“Several studies have demonstrated multiple health benefits from such methods, including reduced stress, anxiety, fatigue, depression, chronic pain, and disease severity for inflammatory bowel disease and cardiovascular disease.”
“However, the mechanisms responsible for these improvements are poorly understood.”
In their study, the authors performed genomic and bioinformatic analyses of 388 blood samples from 106 volunteers, around 40 years of age, who participated in an intensive Samyama meditation retreat.
The Samyama retreat was conducted in April 2018 at the Isha Institute of Inner Sciences in McMinnville, TN, with the requirement to remain entirely silent for 8 days, with more than 10 hours of meditation per day, a strict vegan diet, and a regular sleep-wake cycle.
The samples were obtained before and after the meditation retreat at four time points.
The researchers found the response to oxidative stress, detoxification, and cell cycle regulation pathways were down-regulated after meditation.
Strikingly, 220 genes directly associated with immune response, including 68 genes related to interferon signaling, were up-regulated, with no significant expression changes in the inflammatory genes.
“We identified and characterized the transcriptional program associated with advanced yoga and meditation practices, and we bioinformatically integrated various networks to identify a meditation-specific core network and validate several network predictions,” the scientists said.
“This core network links several immune signaling pathways via a known set of drivers, and we showed that this core transcriptional profile is dysfunctional in multiple sclerosis and severe COVID-19 infection.”
“Very importantly, we demonstrated that these yoga and meditative practices enhanced immune function without activating inflammatory signals.”
“This present proof-of-principle study demonstrated that the immune system can be voluntarily influenced by nonpharmaceutical interventions like yoga and meditation.”
“This suggests that meditation as a behavioral intervention could have important implications for treating various conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation with a dampened immune system profile.”
The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Vijayendran Chandran et al. 2021. Large-scale genomic study reveals robust activation of the immune system following advanced Inner Engineering meditation retreat. PNAS 118 (51): e2110455118; doi: 10.1073/pnas.2110455118
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