ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Asthmatics Who Quit Smoking May Reverse Lung Damage
Folic Acid Might Offer Allergy Relief
Air Pollution May Raise Blood Pressure
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Many Cancer Patients Turn to Complementary Medicine
Should Your Child Be Seeing a Chiropractor?
Music Therapy For Prehistoric Man?
ANIMAL CARE
Safe Toys for Dogs
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
BONES & JOINTS
Health Tip: Back Pain in Children
For All Their Plusses, Pets Pose a Risk for Falls, Too
A Winning Strategy to Beat Spring Sporting Injuries
CANCER
Poor Women Seem to Be Skipping Breast Cancer Drugs
Vitamin E, Selenium and Soy Won't Prevent Prostate Cancer
Herb May Counter Liver Damage From Chemo
CAREGIVING
Moms Who Breast-Feed Less Likely to Neglect Child
Caregivers Face Multiple Strains Tending Older Parents
MRSA Infections Spreading to Kids in Community
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Varicose Veins May Mask Larger Problem
Review Confirms Links Between Diet, Heart Health
Mercury in Fish Linked to High Blood Pressure
COSMETIC
Mouse Study Finds Molecule That Tells Hair to Grow
Health Tip: After Liposuction
The Acne Drug Accutane More Than Doubles Depression Risk
DENTAL, ORAL
Biological Product Shows Promise Against Gum Disease
Acupuncture May Ease Anxiety Over Dental Work
Good Oral Hygiene May Protect Against Heart Infections
DIABETES
'Standard' Glucose Test May Be Wrong One for Obese Children
Spices, Herbs Boost Health for Diabetics
Lifestyle Factors Tied to Older Adults' Diabetes Risk
DIET, NUTRITION
Fruit Even Healthier Than Thought: Study Shows
Folic Acid Might Offer Allergy Relief
Leafy Greens Top Risky Food List
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Researchers ID Genetic Markers for Esophageal Cancer
Air Pollution Exposure May Slow Fetal Growth
Traffic Seems to Make Kids' Asthma Worse
EYE CARE, VISION
Action-Filled Video Games Boost Adult Vision
Autistic Children Make Limited Eye Contact
Glaucoma Associated With Reading Impairments in Elderly
FITNESS
Walk Long, Slow and Often to Help the Heart
MRSA Infections Can Bug Fitness Buffs
Bursts of Vigorous Activity Appear to Be a 'Stress-Buffer'
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
New Yogurt May Ease Stomach Ulcers
New Guidelines Issued for Management of IBS
Peppermint Oil, Fiber Can Fight Irritable Bowel
GENERAL HEALTH
Why Am I So Tired? Could It Be Low Thyroid?
Quit Smoking the Holistic Way
Living Alone Increases Odds of Developing Dementia
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
The Internet Is Becoming One-Stop Shopping for Health Help
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Arteries Age Twice as Fast in Smokers
Brown Rice Tied to Better Heart Health in Study
Using Light Therapy to Silence Harmful Brain Activity
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
The HPV Vaccine: Preventative Medicine or Human Sacrifice?
Older Adults May Have Some Immunity to Swine Flu
Swine Flu Is Now a Pandemic Says W.H.O.
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Music May Temper Pain in Preemies
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Folic Acid Reduces Infant Heart Defects
MEN'S HEALTH
More Vitamin C May Mean Less Chance of Gout
Low Vitamin D Levels May Boost Men's Heart Attack Risk
Drinking Green Tea May Slow Prostate Cancer
MENTAL HEALTH
Green Spaces Boost the Body and the Mind
Positive Brain Changes Seen After Body-Mind Meditation
Common Social Groups and Race, Seem to Help People Relate
PAIN
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Acupuncture May Ease Depression During Pregnancy
For Baby and Mom Alike, Breast-Feeding May Be Best
Prenatal Stress May Boost Baby's Asthma Risk
SENIORS
Fitness Fades Fast After 45
Martial Arts Training May Save Seniors' Hips
High-Impact Activity May Be Good for Old Bones
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Heal Your Life® Tips for Living Well
Most Women With Osteoporosis Unaware of Raised Fracture Risk
Women Smokers Lose 14.5 Years Off Life Span
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Meditation, Yoga Might Switch Off Stress Genes

WEDNESDAY, July 2 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've taken a significant stride forward in understanding how relaxation techniques such as meditation, prayer and yoga improve health: by changing patterns of gene activity that affect how the body responds to stress.

The changes were seen both in long-term practitioners and in newer recruits, the scientists said.

"It's not all in your head," said Dr. Herbert Benson, president emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "What we have found is that when you evoke the relaxation response, the very genes that are turned on or off by stress are turned the other way. The mind can actively turn on and turn off genes. The mind is not separated from the body."

One outside expert agreed.

"It's sort of like reverse thinking: If you can wreak havoc on yourself with lifestyle choices, for example, [in a way that] causes expression of latent genetic manifestations in the negative, then the reverse should hold true," said Dr. Gerry Leisman, director of the F.R. Carrick Institute for Clinical Ergonomics, Rehabilitation and Applied Neuroscience at Leeds Metropolitan University in the U.K.

"Biology is not entirely our destiny, so while there are things that give us risk factors, there's a lot of 'wiggle' in this," added Leisman, who is also a professor at the University of Haifa in Israel. "This paper is pointing that there is a technique that allows us to play with the wiggle."

Benson, a pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine, is co-senior author of the new study, which is published in the journal PLoS One.

Benson first described the relaxation response 35 years ago. Mind-body approaches that elicit the response include meditation, repetitive prayer, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, guided imagery and Qi Gong.

"Previously, we had noted that there were scores of diseases that could be treated by eliciting the relaxation response -- everything from different kinds of pain, infertility, rheumatoid arthritis, insomnia," Benson said.

He believes that this study is the first comprehensive look at how mind states can affect gene expression. It also focuses on gene activity in healthy individuals.

Benson and his colleagues compared gene-expression patterns in 19 long-term practitioners, 19 healthy controls and 20 newcomers who underwent eight weeks of relaxation-response training.

More than 2,200 genes were activated differently in the long-time practitioners relative to the controls and 1,561 genes in the short-timers compared to the long-time practitioners. Some 433 of the differently activated genes were shared among short-term and long-term practitioners.

Further genetic analysis revealed changes in cellular metabolism, response to oxidative stress and other processes in both short- and long-term practitioners. All of these processes may contribute to cellular damage stemming from chronic stress.

Another expert had a mixed response to the findings.

Robert Schwartz, director of the Texas A&M Health Science Center's Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston, noted that the study was relatively small. He also wished that there had been more data on the levels of stress hormones within the control group, for comparison purposes.

However, Schwartz called the study "unique and very exciting. It demonstrates that all these techniques of relaxation response have a biofeedback mechanism that alters gene expression."

He pointed out that the researchers looked at blood cells, which consist largely of immune cells. "You're getting the response most probably in the immune cell population," Schwartz said.

"We all are under stress and have many manifestations of that stress," Benson added. "To adequately protect ourselves against stress, we should use an approach and a technique that we believe evokes the relaxation response 20 minutes, once a day."

-Amanda Gardner

More information

There's more on meditation at the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.



SOURCES: Herbert Benson, M.D., president emeritus, Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, and associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Mass.; Gerry Leisman, M.D., Ph.D., director, F.R. Carrick Institute for Clinical Ergonomics, Rehabilitation and Applied Neuroscience and professor, neuroscience, Leeds Metropolitan University, U.K. and professor, University of Haifa, Israel; Robert Schwartz, Ph.D., director, Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology, Houston; PLoS One

Last Updated: July 02, 2008

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