A few days ago, I read a news report describing a recent study by Carlson et al which shows, astonishingly, that there are actual effects at the molecular level of mindfulness meditation, a typical component of a yoga practice, namely that telomere length is maintained. An accompanying press release explains the results more accessibly, part of which states:
A group working out of Alberta Health Services’ Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the University of Calgary Department of Oncology has demonstrated that telomeres – protein complexes at the end of chromosomes – maintain their length in breast cancer survivors who practise meditation or are involved in support groups, while they shorten in a comparison group without any intervention.
Although the disease-regulating properties of telomeres aren’t fully understood, shortened telomeres are associated with several disease states, as well as cell aging, while longer telomeres are thought to be protective against disease.
“We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology,” says Dr. Linda E. Carlson, PhD, principal investigator and director of research in the Psychosocial Resources Department at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
“It was surprising that we could see any difference in telomere length at all over the three-month period studied,” says Dr. Carlson … “Further research is needed to better quantify these potential health benefits, but this is an exciting discovery that provides encouraging news.”
Teleomeres are the ends of chromosomes – the biochemical equivalent of the plastic thingies that hold the end of our shoelaces together. As we age, teleomeres shorten. Stress increases that rate of shortening. The role of telomeres in cancer and other diseases was the subject of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine to Blackburn, Greider and Szostak.