Readers of this blog know that inflammation mediated through exposure to environmental toxins can cause both physical and mental symptoms. They are also probably aware that there are a number allopathic and naturopathic treatments for inflammation, such as cholestyramine, fish oil and circumin. Dietary changes, especially decreasing carbs and increasing fruits, vegetables and good fats can also be very helpful.
Recently however researchers have begun to demonstrate that mental and psychological interventions can also change inflammation AT THE GENETIC LEVEL. These are major findings, since most of us assume that our genes (dreaded, methylation etc) are our destiny. Although we cannot actually change our base nucleotide pairs that we inherited from Mom and Dad, we can down regulate how those genes express. This is known as epigenetics. We have written about this before
In a recent study Richie Davidson PhD, a neuroscientist known for his studies on Buddhist monks, showed that normal volunteers in one day who practiced mindfulness mediation showed significant down regulation of several genes associated with inflammation – namely COX2, RIPK2 and several histone deacetylase genes which regulate the epigenetic expression of other genes. The control group, which practice quiet activities throughout the day but did not actually meditate, showed no changes.
In other words by practicing specific mental techniques know as mindfulness, volunteers were able in just one day were able to change the expression of their inflammatory genes. You may remember that this has been shown previously in subjects whose happiness came from engaging in socially productive activities known as eudaimonic happiness. These are major finding because it implies that our mind and thoughts can influence our genetics. And a big shout to Richie Davidson who was my thesis advisor at Harvard and encouraged my interest in spirituality and medicine, for remaining focused in producing the scientific evidence that mind shapes our health for both health and illness.
For those who would like to learn more about how to apply mindfulness meditation to their lives I would can recommend an excellent book that was just released called The Last Healing: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life. The author, Donna Nakazawa, has a number of autoimmune illness that severely impacted her quality of life to the point where she was unable to move out of bed without help. She has had multiple medical interventions, which kept her alive but as she says, did not bring back the joy into her life. Her book documents the enormous healing and improvement in the quality of her life that came about through a year devoted to mindfulness mediation, yoga and acupuncture. It is well worth a read for anyone who feels that their health, despite multiple medical and naturopathic interventions, still lacks joy and quality of life.