When it comes to achieving total wellness, there are many factors to consider, but most of us don’t think of meditation as being important in maintaining physical vitality.
We know that following a healthy, whole foods diet with proper supplementation, participating in regular moderate activity and maintaining a positive social support system are important for our health on all levels – physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. However, despite these health-promoting habits, many of us still struggle with managing our stress levels.
What is Your DNA Telling You?
Stress not only affects our mental and emotional states, it has grave consequences for our physical condition as well. Science is proving over and over that stress greatly contributes to many of our most serious chronic and deadly health conditions. This direct connection between our mental/emotional states and our physical bodies is something that Eastern philosophies have taught for millennia, and recently, science has added an interesting new technical perspective: recent studies have revealed that chronic stress may have a profound effect on our DNA by shortening our DNA telomeres.
Telomere deterioration puts us at higher risk of developing cancer and other harmful conditions. The good news is that there is an ancient and well-known mind-body practice, which is now proving successful in physically repairing this DNA damage, while restoring peace of mind at the same time. What is this practice? Simple meditation.
What are telomeres?
Our genes are located on twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres. These are essentially end caps that protect our genetic data, allow for cells to divide properly and reflect how we age. Similar to the plastic covers on the ends of shoelaces, telomeres protect chromosomes from fraying due to aging, poor health, and environmental influences.
Telomeres are shortened every time the cells divide, and when they become too short, the cells are not able to divide properly. While researchers are already aware that telomeres shorten and deteriorate with aging, new studies are finding that chronic stress also contributes to their reduction and the shorter the telomeres, the higher the risk of developing cancer.
Telomeres and cancer
Studies have recently uncovered an association between shortened telomeres and many types of cancer, including pancreatic, bone, prostate, bladder, lung, kidney, and head and neck. Shortened telomeres and reduced telomerase activity have also been identified as important contributing factors in prostate carcinogenesis, ovarian cancer, genomic instability, and breast cancer pathogenesis.
Without telomeres, chromosome ends can fuse together and cause the health of the cell to deteriorate, making the cell malfunction, become cancerous or die. Research is showing more and more evidence that loss of telomere function, either by altering telomere-binding proteins or by loss of telomeric sequences, is associated with the deterioration of cellular health leading to increased aging and disease.
Meditation protects telomeres
The inevitable wear and tear of your telomeres cannot be stopped altogether, but it can certainly be prolonged and even reversed through the activation of a key enzyme called telomerase. Telomerase adds bases to the ends of telomeres and keeps them from weakening and fraying. So how do you reap the benefits of this super-charged enzyme? Studies have shown that psychological changes associated with regular meditation improve your ability to cope with stress and maintain feelings of well being, and contribute to increased telomerase activity.
“We have found that meditation promotes positive psychological changes, and that meditators showing the greatest improvement on various psychological measures had the highest levels of telomerase,” said Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain.
Regular, mindful meditation promotes relaxation, stress relief and improved circulation. Studies show this allows for advanced telomerase activity, promoting cellular health and longevity naturally.
The importance of seasonal detoxification
On top of reducing stress in order to slow the shortening of telomeres, following a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, supplementation and detoxification will provide profound cellular health and anti-aging benefits. Proper nutrition combined with gentle seasonal detoxification helps protect your DNA from damage and improves overall physical, mental and emotional function.
One of the primary contributors to aging and disease is oxidative stress from “free radicals” in the body, which causes a chronic inflammation cycle and damages cells, DNA, proteins and lipids. Environmental toxins and heavy metals are some of the main culprits of oxidative stress, as well as unhealthy diet, inflammation, infection, inactivity and stress. Regular seasonal detoxification using potent antioxidants and other detoxifying nutrients, together with healthy stress relief techniques, are critical in a long-term health and anti-aging program.
A simple practice that can benefit anyone
As more and more research emerges on the importance of meditation for healing, I encourage everyone interested in natural health and wellness to engage in this simple yet meaningful practice of relaxation and regeneration. My own personal 2-year meditation sabbatical has been profound for me, and as this process winds down, it is my deepest desire to share what I have learned during this time with anyone seeking deep healing and rejuvenation.
Regardless of your age, health, or belief system, simple regular meditation practice can benefit you on all levels. As more and more doctors and health practitioners are recommending this ancient, time-tested practice, meditation is on its way to holding a well-deserved reputation as a simple, yet powerful and safe modality for supporting health and preventing illness.
Dr. Isaac Eliaz is a respected author, lecturer, researcher, product formulator, and clinical practitioner. He has been a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980s. Dr. Eliaz is a frequent guest lecturer on integrative medical approaches to health, immune enhancement, and cancer prevention and treatment. For more practical health advice, visit www.dreliaz.org.