May 7th, 2013 by Digestive Detective
Each year thousands of dollars are spent on medications, doctors’ visits, supplements, surgeries, and procedures designed to improve our health or manage an existing health condition. Healthcare costs for employers and businesses have reached such epic proportions that scores of organizations have implemented "employee wellness programs" in an attempt to decrease costs and improve their bottom line by decreasing a variable expense: workforce healthcare expenditures. The dollars associated with these initiatives are themselves high, but pale in comparison to the costs firms incur in claims, absenteeism, and productivity. For consumers, the individual expenses of healthcare and disease prevention can add up particularly if someone hasn’t managed their health well over a lifetime and now finds themselves trying to dig their way out of a hole. Health expenditure per capita reached $7,960 for the United States in 2009 (the highest of all industrialized nations and nearly double most 1st world countries).
Many individuals invest in their health but it’s clear that the investments are not paying dividends. Perhaps funds are misdirected and should be reallocated to other options? Or maybe the funds should be used up front in a proactive manner versus being spent on managing a health condition after it has already taken hold? Perhaps the most novel idea is to actually not spend any money at all and instead, invest time in an activity or practice that is free and avoids affecting the bottom line of either the board room or the household.
Genomics is a discipline in genetics that applies recombinant DNA, DNA sequencing methods, and bioinformatics to sequence, assemble, and analyze the function and structure of genomes (the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism). Recent research has focused on the role of gene expression and suppression in the implication of disease development and management. Interestingly enough, even though gene research is a funding-intensive, expensive endeavor, the results of such research are shedding light on simple, cost-effective, and even free methods to alter gene expression in the role of disease.
A new study from researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has examined and shown the influence of relaxation techniques on gene expression. By eliciting the relaxation response through techniques including meditation, yoga, and prayer, researchers were able to observe immediate changes in the expression of genes involved in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion.
Subjects in the study were broken into groups based on their experience with relaxation techniques: long-term practitioners (4-25 years), short-term (after 8 weeks practice) , and "novice" (individuals who had no previous experience). Individuals completed an 8-week relaxation-response training course and then had samples taken before and after listening to a 20-minute relaxation response CD. Pathways such as those known to have a prominent role in inflammation, stress, trauma and cancer, were suppressed in direct biomarker measurements of all participants who completed the relaxation training program. Based upon the study:
"The results revealed significant changes in the expression of several important groups of genes between the novice samples and those from both the short- and long-term sets. Even more pronounced changes were shown in the long-term practitioners."
Old-Fashioned, New Age Medicine
Thousand-dollar pieces of fitness equipment? Expensive meal plans? Costly medications? Nope - just good old-fashioned relaxation techniques that have been around for millennia. While exercising and eating a nutrient-dense diet are extremely important and valuable, they are not the sole methods of attaining health and influencing disease development. Simple, free, and short in duration, practices such as deep breathing, meditation, prayer, and yoga have increasingly supportive science that shows specifically why and how they influence our physiology in a positive fashion. If you're working to become healthier, and have dialed in your exercise and diet, be sure not to neglect the powerful impact that practices which elicit the relaxation response can have on your health. In the words of the lead study investigator Herbert Benson:
“People have been engaging in these practices for thousands of years, and our finding of this unity of function on a basic-science, genomic level gives greater credibility to what some have called ‘new age medicine.'