Meditation

Does Meditation Affect Cellular Aging?

BY Michael Greger TIMEAugust 26, 2022 PRINT

Dr. Dean Ornish showed that his plant-based diet, exercise, and stress management intervention could in effect reverse the aging of our DNA. What effect might the stress management component have had?

In my Research Into Reversing Aging, I highlighted Dean Ornish’s landmark study showing that a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, along with walking, stress management, and support could not only reverse heart disease, open up arteries without drugs and surgery, and potentially reverse the progression of early-stage prostate cancer, but was the first intervention ever shown to increase telomerase activity, the enzyme that builds and maintains these caps at the tips of our chromosomes called telomeres which appear to slow the aging of our cells. Yes, this new finding was exciting and should encourage people to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to avoid or combat cancer and age-related diseases, but was it the diet, the exercise, or the stress management? That’s what researchers have been trying to tease out in the six years since this study was published.

Let’s look at stress first. In the film The Holiday, Cameron Diaz, exclaimed “Severe stress … causes the DNA in our cells to shrink until they can no longer replicate.” Did Hollywood get the science right? Do people who are stressed have shorter telomeres? To answer that question, researchers measured the telomere lengths in mothers of chronically ill children—what could be more stressful than that? The longer a woman had spent being the main carer of her ill child, the shorter were her telomeres. The extra telomere shortening in the most stressed mothers was equivalent to that caused by at least a decade of aging.

We see the same thing in caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients, and those suffering severe work related exhaustion. Even those abused as children may grow up with shorter telomeres. Not much we can do about our past, but if we manage our stress can we grow some of telomeres back?

Well if you go off to on a meditation retreat and meditate for 500 hours you can indeed boost your telomerase activity. 600 hours of meditation may be beneficial as well, but come on, there’s got to be a quicker fix, and this exciting new study delivers.

Caregivers of family members with dementia randomized to just 12 minutes of daily meditation for 8 weeks, just about 10 hours in total experienced significant benefit. Better mental and psychological function accompanied by an increase in telomerase activity suggesting improvement in stress-induced cellular aging.

Michael Greger, MD, FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. He has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Colbert Report,” and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. This article was originally published on NutritionFacts.org
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