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Relaxation Response Can Influence Expression Of Stress-Related Genes

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  • medit8ionsociety
    From Medical News today: Relaxation Response Can Influence Expression Of Stress-Related Genes How could a single, nonpharmacological intervention help patients
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 4 11:43 AM
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      From Medical News today:

      Relaxation Response Can Influence Expression
      Of Stress-Related Genes

      How could a single, nonpharmacological intervention
      help patients deal with disorders ranging from high
      blood pressure, to pain syndromes, to infertility,
      to rheumatoid arthritis? That question may have been
      answered by a study finding that eliciting the
      relaxation response - a physiologic state of deep rest
      - influences the activation patterns of genes associated
      with the body's response to stress. The collaborative
      investigation by members of the Benson-Henry Institute
      for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General
      Hospital (MGH) and the Genomics Center at Beth Israel
      Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) appears in the
      open-access journal PLoS One.

      "For hundreds of years Western medicine has looked
      at mind and body as totally separate entities, to the
      point where saying something 'is all in your head'
      implied that it was imaginary," says Herbert Benson, MD,
      director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute and
      co-senior author of the PloS One report. "Now we've
      found how changing the activity of the mind can alter
      the way basic genetic instructions are implemented."

      Towia Libermann, PhD, director of the BIDMC Genomics
      Center and the report's co-senior author, adds,
      "This is the first comprehensive study of how the
      mind can affect gene expression, linking what has
      been looked on as a 'soft' science with the 'hard'
      science of genomics. It is also important because
      of its focus on gene expression in healthy individuals,
      rather than in disease states."

      More than 35 years ago Benson first described the
      relaxation response, which can be elicited by practices
      including meditation, deep breathing and prayer; and
      his team has pioneered the field of mind/body medicine.
      Over the years, studies in many peer-reviewed journals
      documented how the relaxation response not only
      alleviates symptoms of psychological disorders such
      as anxiety but also affects physiologic factors such
      as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and
      brain activity. While it became evident that the
      relaxation response was the opposite of the well
      documented fight-or-flight response, the mechanism
      underlying these effects was still unknown.

      The current study was designed to investigate if
      changes in gene expression - whether specific genes
      are activated or repressed - were behind the
      wide-ranging effects of the relaxation response. The
      first phase compared gene expression patterns of 19
      long-term practitioners of different relaxation
      response techniques with those of 19 individuals who
      had never engaged in such practices. Those control
      participants then went through an 8-week training
      program to investigate whether initiating relaxation
      response practice would change gene expression over time.

      Both phases of the study indicated that the
      relaxation response alters the expression of genes
      involved with processes such as inflammation, programmed
      cell death and how the body handles free radicals -
      molecules produced by normal metabolism that, if not
      appropriately neutralized, can damage cells and tissues.
      To validate those results, both phases were repeated
      in 6 different relaxation response practitioners and
      5 non-practitioners, resulting in significantly similar
      changes in gene expression.

      Jeffery Dusek, PhD, co-lead author of the study notes,
      "Changes in the activation of these same genes have
      previously been seen in conditions such as post-traumatic
      stress disorder; but the relaxation-response-associated
      changes were the opposite of stress-associated changes
      and were much more pronounced in the long-term
      practitioners." Formerly with the Benson-Henry Institute,
      Dusek is now at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

      Benson explains, "People have been using these
      culturally determined mind/body techniques for millenia.
      We found that no matter which particular technique
      is used - different forms of meditation and yoga,
      breath focus, or repetitive prayer - the mechanism
      involved is the same. Now we need to see if similar
      changes occur in patients who use the relaxation
      response to help treat stress-related disorders, and
      those studies are underway now."

      Libermann notes that the sensitive genomic analyses
      conducted in this study are at the cutting edge of
      efforts to unravel the genetic aspects of complex
      disorders. "There are a lot of differences in gene
      expression between one healthy person and another,
      so it is challenging to analyze the kinds of
      subtle changes we are seeing and identify what
      changes are significant and what are just background
      noise. Our approach uses the latest bioinformatics
      tools to identify potential gene functions,
      generating hypotheses that can then be tested in
      laboratory or clinical studies."

      Benson is the Mind/Body Medical Institute Associate
      Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School,
      where Libermann is an associate professor of
      Medicine. Hasan Otu, PhD, of BIDMC Genomics Center
      is co-lead author of the PloS One study. Additional
      co-authors are Ann Wohlhueter, Benson-Henry
      Institute; and Manoj Bhasin, PhD, Luiz Zerbini, PhD,
      and Marie Joseph, BIDMC. The study was supported by
      grants from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
      Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

      Massachusetts General Hospital, established in 1811,
      is the original and largest teaching hospital of
      Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest
      hospital-based research program in the United States,
      with an annual research budget of more than $500
      million and major research centers in AIDS,
      cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and
      integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human
      genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders,
      regenerative medicine, systems biology, transplantation
      biology and photomedicine.

      Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient
      care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical
      School and consistently ranks in the top four in
      National Institutes of Health funding among independent
      hospitals nationwide. BIDMC is a clinical partner of the
      Joslin Diabetes Center and is a research partner of
      the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. BIDMC is the
      official hospital of the Boston Red Sox.

      Massachusetts General Hospital
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