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Yoga and meditation are well-documented to have psychological, emotional and physical benefits for people at all stages of health, including cancer patients. Now breakthrough research reveals yoga and meditation can positively affect DNA.

Telomeres, located at the tips of DNA chromosomes, shorten with aging and age-related diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. As telomeres shorten, cells age and die more quickly. Conversely, telomere lengthening can increase a cell’s longevity.

The following studies have found yoga and meditation can protect and even lengthen DNA telomeres.

Yoga and Meditation Maintain Telomere Length in Cancer Survivors

A 2015 randomized controlled study, published in the journal Cancer, found yoga and meditation maintained telomere length in breast cancer patients.

Researchers at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada administered either a yoga and meditation program, supportive group therapy, or 1-day stress management seminar to 88 breast cancer survivors. All of the cancer patients suffered from significant emotional stress following cancer treatment. Blood samples and telomere length were assessed before and after the study.

The yoga group participated in weekly 90-minute yoga sessions for 8 weeks. The yoga group also practiced the yoga and meditation program at home. The supportive group participated in weekly 90-minute group therapy for 3 months.

The researchers found the yoga and group therapy participants had maintained their telomere length. However, the seminar group had shortened telomeres.

“Together, these changes suggest an effect of the interventions on potentially important biomarkers of psychosocial stress,” the study authors write. “Given the increasingly well-documented association between telomere length and cancer initiation and survival, this finding adds to the literature supporting the potential for stress-reducing interventions to impact important disease-regulating processes and ultimately disease outcome”.

Meditation Lengthens Telomeres

A small but significant study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity reports loving-kindness meditators have longer telomeres than non-meditators.

Loving-Kindness Meditation is a Buddhist meditation practice focusing on health, happiness and well-being towards all people.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School obtained blood samples from 15 meditators and 22 non-meditators. Chromosomal DNA was extracted from blood cells.

The researchers found the meditators had longer telomeres than non-meditators. Furthermore, female meditators had significantly longer telomere length than than non-meditators

“Although limited by small sample size, these results offer the intriguing possibility that Loving Kindness Meditation practice, especially in women, might alter relative telomere length, a biomarker associated with longevity,” the study authors conclude.
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