I Heart Biomarkers (How Mindfulness Decreases Inflammation)
(This is the fourth installation in a six part series on the known benefits of mindfulness and meditation. For the intro, click here.)
All in all, inflammation is kind of a bad thing.
Inflammation in the body and brain have been linked to everything from Alzheimer's to heart disease to cancer and sleep disorders. Of course, there are plenty of anti-inflammatory prescription drugs. But, as always, those pharmaceutical solutions come with a host of side effects. So it would be a really good thing if there was some other way to curtail those pesky neurogenic flashes.
As it turns out, there just might be.
So far there are several gold standard studies that point to the anti-inflammatory properties of mindfulness practice (Richie & Dan, Ch. 9). In one study, for instance, researchers pitted Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) against an active control and then induced stress with the Trier test in a group of novice meditators.
Compared to the control group, these newly educated mindfulness practitioners experienced less inflammation. In addition, the more participants' practiced at home, the less inflammation they showed.
In another study, a team of researchers put a group of experienced meditators through the same Trier stress test and again measured their levels of inflammation. In addition to reporting lower levels of stress during the test and producing less cortisol, the expert meditators produced less inflammation than novice meditators during the ordeal.
As if this wasn't enough, a group of researchers recently studied long-term meditators to see what the epigenetic effects of a day of meditation might be (for an explanation of epigenetics click here). After just a single day of practice, the meditators showed a clear "down-regulation" of inflammatory genes. In other words, the expression of their genes literally shifted in a single day from nothing more than directing their attention to their body and breath - a result that was unthinkable to many biological researchers only a few years ago.
Personally, I love biomarkers like these.
Why? Because, as I mentioned in the intro to this series, a lot of the methodology of mindfulness studies is pretty weak. It's easy, for instance, to fudge self-report. Biases abound in psychological research - for both the participant and the researcher. But when you get into up-regulating and down-regulating genes, you can be pretty sure that something interesting is afoot.
And, as Richie & Dan point out, that something could have powerful cumulative effects over the course of a lifetime.
Devon and I will be teaching in Kauai, Ashland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Denmark, and other destinations in the next few months. For more info, please click here.