*Can meditation change your genes??*
How many times have you heard people say, ‘Oh it’s in my genes. There is nothing I can do about it!’ or, ‘Of course she is good in math! Her father is a math professor. It’s in her genes’ ?
We are beginning to think of our genes as our destiny. We think our genes not only determine the color of our eye or the texture of our hair, thay also determine whether we will have cancer or not and whether we will be first or last in class. And with new studies showing everything from autism to Parkinsons being linked to one gene or other, no one can blame us.
So when someone tells us meditation can help control stress, diabetes or something else, we think, ‘How can that be? It is all written in our genes, isn’t it ?’
The truth is, it is not that simple. Researchers have found that just as there are genes that can cause cancer, there are genes that can prevent cancer. And whether we will have cancer or not depends on which gene is ‘switched on’ and which gene is ‘switched off.’
Yes, genes can be switched on and off too. There is a whole subject called epigenetics, which deals with how genes are switched on and off without their underlying DNA structure being changed.
So what causes a gene to switch on or off? YOU. More specifically, what you think, what you eat, how much you exercise, and yes, whether you meditate or not.
In the last decade, several research studies have proved the link between meditation and ‘gene expression’, i.e. whether a gene is turned on or off.
In one study, a group led by Dr. Herbert Benson, president of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine, looked at the genes of 19 long term meditation practitioners, and 19 non practitioners. He found that in the meditating group about 1,000 stress related genes were turned off. This is twice the number of the non practitioners. The more these stress-related genes are turned on, the more likely you are to have pain, high blood pressure and other conditions.
In a later phase, the researchers taught the non practitioners to meditate for 8 weeks and looked at their genes once again. They found that 433 additional stress related genes were turned off – meaning, even if you practice relaxation for a short time, you may change 433 genes !
In another study , Dr. Dean Ornish and others from the Preventive Medicine Research Institute found that meditation can even change genes related to cancer. They studied the effect of meditation and other lifestyle changes in men with early stage prostrate cancer and found changes in over 500 genes. Many disease-promoting genes were ‘turned off,’ whereas protective, disease-preventing genes were ‘turned on.’ For example,
RAS, a set of genes that can cause cancer was ‘turned off’ .
The Selectin E gene, which promotes inflammation and is elevated in breast cancer, was also ‘turned off’.
Another gene called SFRP, that prevents tumor formation was ‘turned on’ – thereby reducing the risk of cancer.