We have written a great deal on the benefits of both meditation and yoga. However, a new study performed at the Tom Baker Cancer Center in Alberta, Canada takes the cake: researchers have found that these ancient practices can actually alter the cells of cancer survivors.
According to the study’s lead author, Linda Carlson, “we already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time, we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology.”
For their experiment, researchers enrolled 88 participants, with an average age of 55. All of the participants were breast cancer survivors, and all of them reported “significant levels of emotional distress.” The participants were divided into three groups for the 12-week study.
The first group attended 90-minute weekly sessions, which provided instruction and guidance on mindfulness and Hatha yoga. This group was asked to practice what they had learned at home for 45 minutes per day. The second group attended 90-minute weekly sessions, which served to allow them to share their emotions openly and receive support. The third group only received one 6-hour workshop on stress relief during the study.
Before and after the study, researchers drew blood samples from the participants, and also measured the length of their telomeres. A telomere is a protein located at the end of a chromosome. The rate of cell aging is closely tied to telomere length: when the telomere degrades and disappears, the chromosome begins to break down. Longer telomeres have been previously associated with protection from illness.
Study results showed that telomere length of the first two groups of participants stayed consistent for the 12-week duration. However, the third group displayed shorter telomeres – a highly significant finding. The first two groups also reported improved mood, and lower levels of stress.
The study authors wrote, “psychosocial interventions providing stress reduction and emotional support resulted in trends toward TL [telomere] maintenance in distressed breast cancer survivors, compared with decreases in usual care.”
However exciting these results, the researchers caution that more studies still need to be done to see if results hold fast over longer periods of time, and in larger groups of participants. Also, the role of telomere length and disease prevention is not entirely understood, although short telomeres are linked to cellular aging.
While we keep our eyes peeled for more developments in this research, there couldn’t be a better time to sign up for a yoga class, or attend a guided meditation session, this season.