Can Meditation Change DNA?

A recent study found that meditation and yoga may affect DNA and can cause positive changes in breast cancer patients. The study, published in Cancer magazine, followed 88 female breast cancer survivors who were divided into three groups to participate in recovery programs. The first group did mindfulness meditation and yoga for eight weeks. The second group partook in 12 weeks of group therapy that involved social support and sharing emotions, and the third group, the control, took a six hour stress-management course. 

Researchers studied the women's blood before and after the recovery programs, paying special attention to the length of their telomeres​. According to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, telomeres are DNA sequences on the end of chromosomes. They keep the cells from dying off by protecting the chromosome sequences. Once a cell has divided, it loses some telomeres, and eventually the telomere becomes too short to replicate. This is called reaching it's "critical length," and once it's reached, the cell will die. Shortened telomeres are linked with aging, cancer and increased risk of death.

The study shows that the women who were involved in the first two groups, the meditation and yoga group and the group that participated in therapy, did not experience any changes in their telomeres once they started the recovery programs. The women who took only the six hour stress-management course had shortened telomeres. Emotional support and stress-reduction techniques were able to stop the shortening, whereas current typical cancer treatment does not address this issue.

According to Scientific American, lead investigator Linda E. Carlson wonders if this result is repeatable in people with other cancers and diseases and if the changes in telomeres are long-lasting. She hopes to continue studying the effects to see if mental intervention at earlier stages in the cancer journey (such as right at the time of diagnosis and during treatment) would prove more beneficial.

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