Relaxation—it’s in your genes

As I’ve described in our books

Your Emotional Type and New World Mindfulness meditative techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga, or even prayer, can help relieve many medical conditions. Since stress is really the great killer of our time (not eggs, meat, salt, saturated fats, or other commonly misidentified government culprits), it makes sense that relaxation—which counters that stress—is a great healer.

We already have a large inventory of clinical research showing that relaxation lowers stress levels and reduces blood pressure. But now, new research reveals the “genetic mechanism” behind these benefits. And this is how the modern medical establishment now judges all therapies.

My colleague, physiologist Dr. Herb Benson at Harvard Medical School led this new, breaking research. Dr. Benson is actually the one who coined the term “relaxation response.”

He told me 20 years ago that he didn’t want his work to be associated with the arbitrary term “alternative/ complementary” medicine because he insists it is just human physiology and good medicine.

Indeed, his latest findings should prove it once and for all.

Dr. Benson and his team of researchers found that relaxation actually causes the genes in your cells to switch to a different mode. In other words, by meditating, you can regulate your genes to kick-in to counteract the toxic effects of stress. (This effect may finally explain the long-observed profound control that experienced yogis develop over all their vital functions, for example.)

The researchers noted four specific types of gene responses. The first involved genes related to mitochondria, which power the cells. This response resulted in better mood, energy, and sleep in the subjects who meditated.

The second gene response was seen in genes linked to insulin. This effect also boosts energy in the cells by regulating all-important blood- sugar metabolism. So responses one and two together influence the most basic energy processes of the body: oxygen through cellular respiration in the mitochondria, and carbohydrate metabolism for useful calories.

Third, the researchers found that people who meditated had less activity in genes that turn on the inflammatory response. In other words, their immune systems were better modulated, or balanced. As you read earlier in this issue, an unbalanced immune system and chronic inflammation may very well be the primary cause of persistent chronic problems such as heart disease and cancer.

Finally, meditation also influenced genes related to telomeres in cells. Telomeres cap off the ends of chromosomes and protect your cells’ genetic material (DNA), especially during cell division and multiplication. And cells are continually dividing and multiplying in order to replace older, worn-out cells with newer, healthy cells. So, they’re directly related to longevity. This means that meditation can actually extend your life span (as has been well observed in the aforesaid yogis, or meditators, for over a century).

And just 10 to 20 minutes per day can have profound benefits.

Of course, there was one thing missing from this research—the personalized, or individualized, “emotional type” factor. This concept was initially developed just across the river from the Harvard group, by Dr. Ernst Hartmann at Tufts University. And my co-author, Mike Jawer, and I described its importance for a dozen of today’s most stress-related and baffling illnesses in our book Your Emotional Type. The basic premise is that the “mind-body therapy” that works best for each individual is based upon your “personality boundary” or emotional type. Without knowing this parameter, these research results just represent generalizations in terms of helping to manage actual medical conditions.

You can learn which techniques will work best for you by taking the on-line quiz or getting a copy of Your Emotional Type at your local bookstore.

Until very recently, I was concerned that all of today’s multi-billion, high- tech genetic research was leading us away from safe, inexpensive, proven approaches to health and healing. So it’s nice to see so much of it (as I’ve shared in this newsletter, as well as Daily Dispatches over the past two months) is revealing how age-old approaches of nutrition and natural healing actually work at the cellular, genetic, and metabolic levels.

Maybe now those great Mandarins of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health can all finally accept that natural medicine does work, because they can finally see how it works—in their own, thoroughly modern terms—on the molecular genetic level.


1. “Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways,” PLoS ONE 2013: 8(5): e62817