ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Keep Asthma, Allergies at Bay for the Holidays
Herbal Remedy Could Halt Peanut Allergy
Traffic, Dust Linked to Asthma in Kids
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Indigo Ointment Benefits Psoriasis Patients
Relaxation Tapes or Mozart Lower Blood Pressure
Higher Vitamin D Intake Could Cut Cancer Risk
ANIMAL CARE
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
Safe Toys for Dogs
BONES & JOINTS
Active Young Women Need Calcium, Vitamin D
Scientists Discover How Osteoarthritis Destroys Cartilage
'Snowbirds' Beware the Climate Changes
CANCER
Smoking Exposure Now Linked to Colon, Breast Cancers
Bitter Melon Extract May Slow, Stop Breast Cancer
Acupuncture May Help Relieve Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
CAREGIVING
Health Tip: Benefitting From Adult Day Care
Caring for Aging Loved Ones Can Be a Catch-22
ER Less Likely to Diagnose Stroke in Younger Folks
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Firefighters Have Narrower-Than-Normal Arteries, Study Finds
Bad Marriages Harder on Women's Health
Anemia Rates Down for U.S. Women and Children
COSMETIC
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
Gum Chewing May Cut Craving for Snacks
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
DENTAL, ORAL
Sports Drinks May Be Tough on Teeth
Holistic Dentistry-My View
A Sweet Way to Shield Baby's Teeth
DIABETES
Poor Blood Sugar Control After Heart Surgery Impacts Outcomes
'Standard' Glucose Test May Be Wrong One for Obese Children
Exercise Protects Black Women From Type 2 Diabetes
DIET, NUTRITION
Low-Fat Diet Does Little to Alter Cholesterol Levels
Common Antioxidant Might Slow Parkinson's
Folic Acid Might Offer Allergy Relief
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
FDA Faulted for Stance on Chemical in Plastics
Pesticides Linked to Parkinson's
Fish in U.S. Rivers Tainted With Common Medications
EYE CARE, VISION
Cases of Age-Related Farsightedness to Soar
Magnetic Pulses to Brain Improve Lazy Eye in Adults
Half of U.S. Adults Lack 20/20 Vision
FITNESS
Yoga Can Ease Lower Back Pain
Vigorous Treadmill Workout Curbs Appetite Hormones
Research Confirms How Valuable A Healthy Lifestyle Can Be
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
Japanese Herbals May Ease Gastro Woes
New Guidelines Issued for Management of IBS
GENERAL HEALTH
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
Reminiscing Helps Build Emotional Strength
Have a Goal in Life? You Might Live Longer
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
Airport Full Body Scanners Pose No Health Threat: Experts
E-Mailing Your Way to Healthier Habits
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Heart Disease
Dark Chocolate May Lower Stroke Risk
Fatty Fish May Cut Heart Failure Risk in Men
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Hand Washing 10 Times a Day May Help Keep Flu Away
Poor Restroom Cleaning Causes Cruise-Ship Sickness
Viral Infection Might Trigger High Blood Pressure
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Treat Kids to a Safe Halloween
Pool Chemicals Raise Kids Allergy, Asthma Risk
Don't Leave Your Kids In The Car !
MEN'S HEALTH
The Dark Side of Vegetarianism
Soy Linked to Low Sperm Count
Whole Grains, Bran May Fight Hypertension in Men
MENTAL HEALTH
Heal Your Life® Tips for Living Well
Using the Mind to Heal the Heart
Bullying Seems to Affect Kids Years Later
PAIN
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
Placebo Acupuncture Tied to Higher IVF Pregnancies
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
SENIORS
More Whole Grains May Mean Less Fat
Daily dose of beet juice promotes brain health in older adults
Exercise Benefits Even the Oldest Old
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Alternative Treatments May Boost IVF Success
Vitamin D Good for Breast Cancer Patients
Sugary Colas Tied to Gestational Diabetes
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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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