But what about cancer? And what about heart disease? Everyone is looking for a cure for the two biggest killers in the United States, and recent studies are showing that mindfulness meditation might help. So close your eyes and say “Ommm.”
Meditation as a Medical Cure
Mindfulness meditation is similar to what you probably imagine when you think of meditating. It’s done seated, involves closing your eyes and turning your thoughts inward. Practitioners of mindfulness meditation try to live in the present, using meditation to forgive their past and stop jolting for the future.
Research about the physical benefits of mindfulness meditation have been coming out since 2008, when a study found that comprehensive lifestyle changes, such as stress management, aerobic exercise and a vegan diet had an impact on telomere length in prostate cancer patients.
Telomere length refers to the tip ends of the chromosomes that protect our DNA. Reducing stress can increase telomerase, which is the telomere-lengthening enzyme that scientists have discovered protect our DNA and contribute to our overall health.
Show Me the Science
The 2008 study asked 30 men with biopsy-diagnosed low-risk prostate cancer to make comprehensive lifestyle changes for three months. They found that these changes “significantly increased telomerase activity and consequently telomere maintenance capacity in human immune-system cells.”
Another study in 2013 tested the effects of mindfulness meditation specifically, finding that after eight hours of mindfulness practice, meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences from a control group who simply engaged in quiet, non-meditative activities. The changes were found in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs, often used with patients who suffer from heart disease.
The most interesting finding, though, comes from a 2014 study that looked at 88 breast cancer survivors and found that the women who participated in regular mindfulness meditation had longer telomeres, and women in the control group who didn’t practice any meditation had shortened telomeres after the 12-week study.
Shortened telomeres don’t necessarily cause cancer or heart disease, but they do whittle with age and tend to correlate with patients of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Lengthening, or at least maintaining the length of our telomeres may help prevent these illnesses in those predisposed or aid in recovery.
But Wait, There’s More
The positive implications of mindfulness meditation extend even further than cancer, heart disease and diabetes, if you can believe it. Dr. Linda E. Carlson, who was the lead investigator on the 2014 study, found that mindfulness is associated with healthier levels of the stress hormone cortisol in her earlier work. And that mindfulness stress reduction may help individuals fight the flu and effects of HIV.
Another study conducted by Harvard University in 2014 found that mindfulness meditation can physically increase the gray matter density in our brains, near the hippocampus and amygdala, which are areas associated with self-awareness, compassion, anxiety and stress.
Tibetan monks sometimes live to be anywhere from 100 to 120 years old. And it isn’t uncommon to find a monk that looks to be in his 40s who is actually 80. The secrets of these age-defying abbots is not a pill or a fountain of youth, but healthy living practices that include long hours of mindfulness meditation.
One of the biggest proponents of aging is oxidative stress, and learning to reduce stress is one of, if not the key, to slowing the aging process. Tap into the power of meditation and other natural remedies for stress to extend your years and lead a happier, healthier life as you do.