“Reverse” Molecular Reactions in DNA through Mind-Body Interventions

While my morning routine typically only involves a large cup of coffee, increasingly more Americans are beginning their days with a set of sun salutations. Sun salutations are a series of poses originating from yoga, one of the most popular types of mind-body intervention in the United States. Along with yoga, other commonly recognized mind-body interventions (MBI) include meditation, mindfulness, Tai chi, and Qigong. Despite the fact that each of these activities differ in the amount of physical effort required, they all view mental and physical health as single cohesive system.

The influence of overall mind-body intervention on health and wellness is an ancient concept that is now revolutionizing Western medicine. In the past, Western medicine has focused primarily on the health of the physical body. Yoga and meditation were viewed as beneficial, but were less likely to be recommended by clinicians as a method for relief. Now, with recent developments in gene expression analysis techniques, we have a better understanding of biological mechanisms and how they interact with psychological variables. A possible shift in clinician’s philosophies can be seen in the steady rise in the complementary health approaches of yoga, Tai chi, and qi gong1.

To completely understand how MBI affects a person’s health, we must first realize the links between stress and the conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA). CTRA refers to the common molecular pattern discovered in individuals facing hardship. Whether it be in the form of diagnosis of a life-threatening disease or the death of a loved one, the characteristics of CTRA stay consistent. CTRA causes an influx in the production of epinephrine and norepinephrine. These neuromodulators then affect the production of transcription factors.

Using bioinformatics analysis, mind-body intervention research shows that MBIs contribute opposite effects of chronic stress on gene expression, which may lead to a reduced risk of inflammation-related diseases. Most studies specifically attribute this to the downregulation of nuclear factor kappa B pathways (NF-κB)2. NF-κB is the key transcription factor produced when stress activates the sympathetic nervous system.  When there is NF-κB available, it changes the expression of genes that code for inflammatory cytokines. Unaddressed long-term inflammation can lead to reduced grey matter in the brain3. A lack of NF-κB would essentially lead to changes in the expression of the genes causing inflammation, therefore suggesting MBI could reduce stress.

As potential benefits of MBI continue to be discovered, an individual may be more likely to make related lifestyle changes. Whether these modifications mean setting aside ten minutes for meditation before work, or rushing to the local yoga studio to sign up for an unlimited membership, there is some progress made towards a healthier life. Personally, I intend to make these changes by participating in Promega’s wellness program.

Promega’s wellness program accepts a holistic view on employee’s health. In addition to a health clinic on campus, there is a team designated to help individuals reach their wellness goals. One of the most beneficial resources offered by this team is called ProMindful. ProMindful is a program designed to help individuals practice mindfulness through meditation. In addition to ProMindful, Promega employees also have full access to the Zen Zone. This area, complete with a yoga studio, steeping pool, and steam bath, is the ideal space for Promega staff to practice their mind-body interventions.

As an individual becomes more conscious of the benefits of MBI, such as reduced risk of inflammation-related diseases, it becomes essential he find the type of MBI that works best for himself. With options such as yoga, tai chi, qi gong, meditation, and mindfulness, there’s a type of MBI for everyone. While one person might enjoy a quiet morning hike with a stop for mediation, another might practice MBI by practicing qi gong in their local studio. How will you reap the benefits of mind-body intervention by adding it into your daily routine?

References:

  1. Clarke, Tainya C., et al. (2015) Trends in the use of complementary health approaches among adults: United States, 2002–2012. National health statistics reports 79: 1. Retrieved July 3, 2017 from the World Wide Web: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr079.pdfm.
  2. Buric, Ivana. et al. (2017) What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind–Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices. Frontiers in Immunology. 8, 670. Retrieved June 28, 2017 from the World Wide Web: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fimmu.2017.00670/full.
  3. Gianaros, Peter J. (2007) Prospective reports of chronic life stress predict decreased grey matter volume in the hippocampus, NeuroImage 35, 795-803. Retrieved July 3, 2017 from the World Wide Web: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811906010676.
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Alyssa, a Wisconsin native, is a senior pursuing her B.S. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While she has a continued interest in marketing and sales, she is currently majoring in neurobiology and zoology. Outside of Promega, Alyssa spends her time attending live music performances and slacklining at James Madison Park.

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