Meditation and Health Benefits
Posted on February 7th, 2019

Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D. 

Over the past 30 years the practice of meditation has become increasingly popular in clinical settings (Dakwar & Levin, 2009). Meditation allows studying the multiple connections between the mind, brain, and body (Braboszcz et al, 2010).  

Meditation has numerous health   benefits (Cramer et al., 2016). It has beneficial effects on brain and body. Meditation is a great stress breaker. In addition meditation is indicated in anxiety conditions, depression, substance abuse, in pain management, in sleep problems etc. Meditation increases blood flow and slows the heart rate. Meditation is associated with a range of physiological   effects, including lower blood pressure and lower cortisol (Buttle, 2015). Meditation increases the immune function and improves general health.

Mindfulness practice, in particular, may be more efficacious in symptom relief than the well-being promoting activities cultivated in the health enhancement (Rosenkranz et al., 2013). Meditation practice can positively influence the experience of chronic illness and can serve as a primary, secondary, and/or tertiary prevention strategy (Bonadonna, 2003).  Meditative practice may notably shape individuals’ personality and self-concept toward more healthy profiles (Crescentini &, Capurso, 2015). Meditation promotes the emotional balance. As described by Hilton and team (2017) Mindfulness meditation improves quality of life. Thus meditation has unique health benefits.

Meditation and Immune Enhancement

The immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body from infection. Enhancing the immune system is imperative for healthy living. The most recent evidence suggests that the immune system responses are not regulated only by the presence of antigens but they are also influenced by the brain and behavior (Lutz et al., 2001). The brain can interfere with the immune system (Straub & Cutolo, 2017).

The idea that thoughts and emotions influence health outcomes is an ancient concept that was initially abandoned by Western medicine researchers.   However new research indicate that these interactions play in disease formation and recovery (Mayden, 2012). Psychoneuroimmunology is the scientific field that investigates linkages between the brain, behavior, and the immune system and the implications of these linkages for physical health and disease (Kemeny & Gruenewald, 1999). Research into psychoneuroimmunology became relatively widespread in the 1970s (Kropiunigg, 1993).

Psychotherapy can “wake” up the immune system (Mausch, 2002). Meditation which is an advanced form of psychotherapy has beneficial effects on immune function. Chronic stress has been associated with suppression of immune function (O’Leary, 1990). Meditation has effective in reducing stress.

Davidsonand colleagues (2003) found significant increases in antibody titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation compared with those in the wait-list control group. Meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and maintaining a healthy gut-barrier function (Househam et al., 2017). Black and Slavich (2016) suspect mindfulness meditation may be salutogenic for immune system dynamics. They further state that mindfulness mediation appears to be associated with reductions in proinflammatory processes, increases in cell-mediated defense parameters, and increases in enzyme activity that guards against cell aging.  Creswell and colleagues (2009) pointed out that mindfulness meditation training can buffer CD4+ T lymphocyte declines in HIV-1 infected adults.

Meditation and Cellular Health

Human cells have a limited life span (Hayflick &Moorehead, 1980). Aging is the result of a gradual functional decline at the cellular, and ultimately, organismal level (Wang & Dreesen 2018). An important aspect of biological aging is aging at the cellular level (Lindqvist et al., 2015).  Every time cells divide, telomeres are shortened, leading to cellular damage and cellular death associated with aging (Bryan et al., 1998).

Cellular health is impacted by physical diseases and psychological ailments. Major depressive disorder (MDD) has been considered a syndrome of “premature aging” (Heuser, 2002; Lindqvist et al., 2015). PTSD is associated with accelerated aging (Yehuda et al., 2005). Drug-addiction may trigger early onset of age-related disease (Bachi et al., 2017).

Meditation practices can lead to improvements in physical and mental health (Chiesa & Serretti, 2009). According to Kabat-Zinn meditation has impact on the entire organism–from chromosomes to cells and to brain. Meditation improves cellular health (Epel et al., 2016).

Meditation and Telomere Regulation

Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein reverse transcriptase cellular enzyme and Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes (Epel et al., 2009). Telomeres are DNA and protein complexes that are located at the end of linear chromosomes and are necessary for the complete replication of DNA as well as chromosome stability (Alda et al., 2016). Telomeres help to maintain genomic integrity and are of key importance to human health (Rathore & Abraham, 2018).  When telomeres reach a critically short length, cells undergo replicative senescence or can become genomically unstable (Lindqvist et al., 2015). Shorter telomeres are associated with accelerated aging and related diseases (Sharma, 2015) and chronic stress (Hoge et al., 2013).

Telomerase activity is a predictor of long-term cellular viability (Jacobs et al., 2011). During meditation telomere regulation is improved (Conklin et al., 2018).   The ability to maintain longer telomeres through practicing meditation has many implications on health. (Alda et al., 2016). According to Rathore and Abraham, (2018) practice of   meditation can help to maintain genomic integrity and are of key importance to human health and lifestyle disorders. Hoge and team (2013) state that loving-kindness meditation practice associated with longer telomeres.

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