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Study Shows Mindfulness Reduces Inflammation

Publication date: 21 February 2014

This week I came across a video by Dr Kelly Brogan reporting on research demonstrating that mindfulness meditation rapidly reduces the expression of genes associated with inflammation. I've linked to the video below. Some background information might be helpful here, in understanding what's being said.

  • Systemic inflammation is implicated as a causal factor in most of the big chronic health issues affecting western societies today, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's and depression.
  • Psychological or emotional stress is known to trigger inflammation in the body and brain.
  • There are genes known to be responsible for triggering inflammatory signals in the body but the key thing is whether they are turned on or not. Gene expression is not cast in stone, rather it's relatively easy to change. Stress turns on inflammatory genes, and now research shows mindfulness meditation turns them off.

I believe Dr Brogan is referring to this study of mindfulness meditation and gene expression. The researchers, led by Professor Richard Davidson, found that just one day of mindfulness meditation affected gene expression.

Dr Brogan believes the key is inducing the relaxation response. Mindfulness meditation is just one way of doing this. She lists others:

  • controlled coherent breathing at 5 breaths per minute
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • biofeedback, (Dr Brogan mentions HRV biofeedback specifically).

I think these methods overlap a lot. A slow, regular breathing pattern (5 or 6 bpm) is very likely to induce strong heart rate coherence. HRV biofeedback is simply a tool for guiding you into this state of heart rate coherence, and you can use it in combination with breathing techniques. EMG biofeedback can make muscle relaxation more effective. And of course you can use all this techniques in a spirit of mindfulness, which is really just an open, curious, non-judgmental non-craving mindset. I'm personally a big fan of using biofeedback in a context of meditation practice - I believe it can make mindfulness practice more effective.

Here's Dr Brogan's video, which I first saw on Dr Mercola's website.

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