Epigenetics is a discipline within the field of biology. It studies the mechanisms that modify the expression of genes by reversible and transmissible nature during cellular divisions without changing the DNA (without changing the nucleotide sequence).
It is the ability to modulate the expression of our genes through our behavior in the environment to which we are exposed. This can be through diet, exercise, medication, exposure to chemical pollutants, or exposure to stress and the nature of social networks.
For an equal genome, as in the case of monozygotic twins, a person will express or not express a disease depending on their behavior in their environment.
We can compare our genes to garlands that will turn on or off depending on our behavior in our environment through chemical modification to the structure of DNA. That is to say, by epigenetic processes such as DNA methylation or a change in the structure of histones.
So how does the environment influence the onset and development of diseases, such as cancers and psychiatric disorders?
In fact, several studies have been dedicated to understanding how the environment imprints its mark on genes and influences health. For example, how would one of the monozygotic twins develop a disease, but not the other? How would one twin be struck with bipolar disease or develop diabetes, but not the other?
Several studies in psychiatry have shown that, due to molecular alteration, traumatic experiences from early childhood would be engraved on the brain and cause epigenetic alterations that make people more susceptible to stress and more conducive to the development of psychiatric disorders.
Moreover, Dr. Gustavo Turecki, the director of the department of psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, was particularly interested in suicide.
The psychiatrist and his collaborators, as part of their research, compared the brains of 46 men who committed suicide with those of 16 men who died suddenly. They discovered, in people who killed themselves, epigenetic changes were found in 366 genes in a specific part of their brains; the hippocampus. Therefore, epigenetic reprogramming in their brain took place.
The role of meditation in disease prevention
Dr. Perla Kaliman is a biochemist and neuroscientist who has published several articles discussing the impact of meditation on epigenetic changes, as well as the link between stress and these changes. Stress is caused by various environmental factors and influences gene expression.
Indeed, mindfulness meditation seems to lead to an increase in telomere length (telomeres are highly repetitive regions of DNA, located at the end of each chromosome). This is an important finding given that short telomeres may be a risk factor for the development of several chronic health conditions.
Research has also investigated mindfulness movements and exercises for different patient populations. Mindfulness-based approaches are major topics of growing interest for research; 52 articles were published in 2003 and 477 in 2012. Nearly 100 randomized controlled trials had been published at the start of 2014.
In conclusion, we are not victims of our genes since we can have a certain power of action on our environment through different tools, such as meditation.
For more in-depth information on the impact of meditation on disease prevention, take a look at my YouTube video here (in French):
You know what you have left to do! If you need help you can also call on my support.
- Study of epigenetic changes in the brain of people who have had traumatic experiences in early childhood: McGowan PO, Sasaki A, D’Alessio AC et al. Epigenetic regulation of the glu-cocorticoid receptor in human brain associates with childhood abuse. Nat Neurosci 2009; 12 (3): 342-8.
- Study of epigenetic modifications in the brain of people who have committed suicide: Turecki G. The molecular bases of the suicidal brain. Nat Rev Neurosci 2014; 15 (12): 802-16.