Posted 12.19.2019 | by AMRA
The human genome is the sum total of genes encoded in our DNA. Epigenetics is the study of how these genes get turned on and off to produce physiological effects. For example, epigenetic changes in the immune system play a central role in disease onset and aging.
We may be able to alter our epigenetic activity through behavioral changes in exercise, diet, and stress reduction. While stress reduction practices have previously been found to down-regulate the immune system and inflammation, little is known about how such practices affect immune system epigenetics.
DNA strands are wrapped around protein complexes called histones. Genes can be turned on or off through methylation (the addition of carbon atoms bonded to four hydrogen atoms) of the histones adjacent to DNA gene segments.
Chaix et al. [Brain, Behavior and Immunity] studied the effect of intensive mindfulness meditation on the methylation of immune cell (lymphocyte and monocyte) genes in experienced meditators after one day of intensive meditation.
The researchers recruited 19 experienced meditators (average age = 50; 58% female; 84% Caucasian) and 21 meditation-naïve controls (average age = 50; 57% female; 84% Caucasian). Meditators had a minimum of 3 years of meditating at least 30 minutes a day and attended at least 3 intensive meditation retreats.
The meditators had their blood drawn before and after an 8-hour period of intensive mindfulness meditation similar to a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction all-day retreat. Controls had their blood drawn before and after 8 hours of leisure activities such as reading, playing computer games, watching documentaries, and walking.
Blood draw immune (mononuclear) cell DNA was analyzed for methylation levels at over 400,000 separate DNA sites. After quality filtering, usable data […]