It’s Not Just For Your Brain: Meditating Can Actually Change Your DNA

I’ve been saying this for years, not because I already knew the science of meditation, but because I knew the reality in my life of how my mind affects my body. It just made sense, y’know? It’s nice to have third party support!

Meditation is good for you. We don’t need to tell you that. The chorus of voices extolling the virtues of mindfulness is never-ending: It decreases stress. It helps you focus. It can even rewire your mental circuitry. But it’s not just your synapses that see the benefits: As it turns out, meditating can physically change your DNA.

In a recent study, the use of mindfulness meditation was shown to have an impact on certain types of DNA in breast cancer patients. Specifically, the length of telomeres—these are the tiny protective caps on the end of chromosomes—was physically altered as the result of this type of meditation.

The study, which was published in the Canadian journal Cancer, showed that the length of telomeres was preserved by meditation. Why does that matter? Shorter telomeres aren’t explicitly problematic, but they do tend to correlate with things like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. So, if we can manage to keep these microscopic structures from whittling down in size, our health is better off.

Explains Scientific American:

In Carlson’s study distressed breast cancer survivors were divided into three groups. The first group was randomly assigned to an 8-week cancer recovery program consisting of mindfulness meditation and yoga; the second to 12-weeks of group therapy in which they shared difficult emotions and fostered social support; and the third was a control group, receiving just a 6-hour stress management course. A total of 88 women completed the study and had their blood analyzed for telomere length before and after the interventions. Telomeres were maintained in both treatment groups but shortened in controls.

This isn’t the first time that Buddhist-style mindfulness meditation has been linked to the molecular goings-on of our biological makeup. A December 2013 study from the University of Wisconson-Madison demonstrated that the DNA of subjects who meditated “showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.”

The telomere length correlation goes back to 2008, when a study found that stress management, aerobic exercise, and a vegan diet had an impact on telomere length in prostate cancer patients.

Pretty nuts. So if the neurocircuitry-boosting, focus-enhancing wonders of meditation weren’t enough to sell you, perhaps the promise of physical health benefits will rope you onto the bandwagon. And just in time for the New Year’s resolution season, no less.