Relaxation Response

(From Integrative Medicine 08.08.2008.)

Is it possible that a simple relaxation response can alter the expression of genes?   A study appearing in the July 2 issue of the open-access journal PLoS One found the answer to be yes – potentially offering relief to people suffering from health issues ranging from high blood pressure to infertility as well as pain and rheumatological disorders. Research performed in a collaboration between the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Genomics Centre at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center suggests that the relaxation response, a physiologic state of deep rest, can influence the activation patterns of genes associated with the body’s response to stress.

Touted as the first comprehensive study of the mind’s effects on gene expression, this investigation focused on the relationship between the relaxation response and the activation or repression of certain genes. The first phase of the study compared gene expression patterns in 19 long-term practitioners of different relaxation response techniques with those of 19 individuals who had never engaged in such practices.   The control participants then went through an 8-week training programme to determine whether initiating a relaxation response practice would change gene expression over time.

The results were conclusive.   Each phase of the study indicated that the relaxation response alters the expression of genes involved in inflammation, programmed cell death, and the body’s handling of free radicals  (those molecules produced by normal metabolism that can damage cells and tissues if not properly neutralised).   To validate those results, both phases were repeated in 11 participants – 6 relaxation response practitioners and 5 non-practitioners.   Results showed significantly similar changes in gene expression.

The relaxation response can be elicited by such practices as meditation, deep breathing, and prayer *(also Polarity Therapy & Therapeutic Touch, mindful body scan, deep relaxation & visualization) and has been documented in previous studies to alleviate anxiety, heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure, and post traumatic stress disorder. The Researchers of this study hope that their work will generate hypotheses that may later be tested in laboratory and clinical trials.