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Psychological stress is a major provocative factor of symptoms in chronic inflammatory conditions. In recent years, interest in addressing stress responsivity through meditation training in health-related domains has increased astoundingly, despite a paucity of evidence that reported benefits are specific to meditation practice. We designed the present study to rigorously compare an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention to a well-matched active control intervention, the Health Enhancement Program (HEP) in ability to reduce psychological stress and experimentally-induced inflammation. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was used to induce psychological stress and inflammation was produced using topical application of capsaicin cream to forearm skin. Immune and endocrine measures of inflammation and stress were collected both before and after MBSR training. Results show those randomized to MBSR and HEP training had comparable post-training stress-evoked cortisol responses, as well as equivalent reductions in self-reported psychological distress and physical symptoms. However, MBSR training resulted in a significantly smaller post-stress inflammatory response compared to HEP, despite equivalent levels of stress hormones. These results suggest behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity may be of therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions. Moreover, mindfulness practice, in particular, may be more efficacious in symptom relief than the well-being promoting activities cultivated in the HEP program.

Psychological stress is a major provocative factor of symptoms in chronic inflammatory conditions. In recent years, interest in addressing stress responsivity through meditation training in health-related domains has increased astoundingly, despite a paucity of evidence that reported benefits are specific to meditation practice. We designed the present study to rigorously compare an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention to a well-matched active control intervention, the Health Enhancement Program (HEP) in ability to reduce psychological stress and experimentally-induced inflammation. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was used to induce psychological stress and inflammation was produced using topical application of capsaicin cream to forearm skin. Immune and endocrine measures of inflammation and stress were collected both before and after MBSR training. Results show those randomized to MBSR and HEP training had comparable post-training stress-evoked cortisol responses, as well as equivalent reductions in self-reported psychological distress and physical symptoms. However, MBSR training resulted in a significantly smaller post-stress inflammatory response compared to HEP, despite equivalent levels of stress hormones. These results suggest behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity may be of therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions. Moreover, mindfulness practice, in particular, may be more efficacious in symptom relief than the well-being promoting activities cultivated in the HEP program.
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OBJECTIVES: Previously it was shown that a brief yoga-based lifestyle intervention was efficacious in reducing oxidative stress and risk of chronic diseases even in a short duration. The objective of this study was to assess the efficacy of this intervention in reducing stress and inflammation in patients with chronic inflammatory diseases. DESIGN: This study reports preliminary results from a nonrandomized prospective ongoing study with pre-post design. SETTING/LOCATION: The study was conducted at the Integral Health Clinic, an outpatient facility conducting these yoga-based lifestyle intervention programs for prevention and management of chronic diseases. SUBJECTS: Patients with chronic inflammatory diseases and overweight/obese subjects were included while physically challenged, and those on other interventions were excluded from the study. INTERVENTION: A pretested intervention program included asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), stress management, group discussions, lectures, and individualized advice. OUTCOME MEASURES: There was a reduction in stress (plasma cortisol and β-endorphin) and inflammation (interleukin [IL]-6 and tumor necrosis factor [TNF]-α) at day 0 versus day 10. RESULTS: Eighty-six (86) patients (44 female, 42 male, 40.07 ± 13.91 years) attended this program. Overall, the mean level of cortisol decreased from baseline to day 10 (149.95 ± 46.07, 129.07 ± 33.30 ng/mL; p=0.001) while β-endorphins increased from baseline to day 10 (3.53 ± 0.88, 4.06 ± 0.79 ng/mL; p=0.024). Also, there was reduction from baseline to day 10 in mean levels of IL-6 (2.16 ± 0.42, 1.94 ± 0.10 pg/mL, p=0.036) and TNF-α (2.85 ± 0.59, 1.95 ± 0.32 pg/mL, p=0.002). CONCLUSIONS: This brief yoga-based lifestyle intervention reduced the markers of stress and inflammation as early as 10 days in patients with chronic diseases; however, complete results of this study will confirm whether this program has utility as complementary and alternative therapy.
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Asthma, like many inflammatory disorders, is affected by psychological stress, suggesting that reciprocal modulation may occur between peripheral factors regulating inflammation and central neural circuitry underlying emotion and stress reactivity. Despite suggestions that emotional factors may modulate processes of inflammation in asthma and, conversely, that peripheral inflammatory signals influence the brain, the neural circuitry involved remains elusive. Here we show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and insula to asthma-relevant emotional, compared with valence-neutral stimuli, is associated with markers of inflammation and airway obstruction in asthmatic subjects exposed to antigen. This activation accounts for > or =40% of the variance in the peripheral markers and suggests a neural basis for emotion-induced modulation of airway disease in asthma. The anterior cingulate cortex and insula have been implicated in the affective evaluation of sensory stimulation, regulation of homeostatic responses, and visceral perception. In individuals with asthma and other stress-related conditions, these brain regions may be hyperresponsive to disease-specific emotional and afferent physiological signals, which may contribute to the dysregulation of peripheral processes, such as inflammation.
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The Indo-Tibetan tradition claims that proficiency in the suggested longevity practices of meditation, diet, and physical exercise (yoga), will result in profound anti-aging, stress-mediating and health enhancing effects. Western biomedical research has begun to demonstrate that the psychobiological states induced and cultivated by cognitive behavioral practices which are emblematic of those contained within the Indo-Tibetan tradition (hypnosis, meditation, visualization, systematic relaxation), indeed do have a profound impact on the body's protective and regulatory systems. Although continued study is necessary, much of the early research illuminating the mechanisms responsible for the life-span extending and health-enhancing effects of these cognitive behavioral practices points to the importance of their anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, and antioxidant effects as well as their impact in enhancing the production of endogenous substances that possess general longevity-enhancing, regenerative properties.
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SummaryBackground A growing body of research shows that mindfulness meditation can alter neural, behavioral and biochemical processes. However, the mechanisms responsible for such clinically relevant effects remain elusive. Methods Here we explored the impact of a day of intensive practice of mindfulness meditation in experienced subjects (n = 19) on the expression of circadian, chromatin modulatory and inflammatory genes in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). In parallel, we analyzed a control group of subjects with no meditation experience who engaged in leisure activities in the same environment (n = 21). PBMC from all participants were obtained before (t1) and after (t2) the intervention (t2 − t1 = 8 h) and gene expression was analyzed using custom pathway focused quantitative-real time PCR assays. Both groups were also presented with the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Results Core clock gene expression at baseline (t1) was similar between groups and their rhythmicity was not influenced in meditators by the intensive day of practice. Similarly, we found that all the epigenetic regulatory enzymes and inflammatory genes analyzed exhibited similar basal expression levels in the two groups. In contrast, after the brief intervention we detected reduced expression of histone deacetylase genes (HDAC 2, 3 and 9), alterations in global modification of histones (H4ac; H3K4me3) and decreased expression of pro-inflammatory genes (RIPK2 and COX2) in meditators compared with controls. We found that the expression of RIPK2 and HDAC2 genes was associated with a faster cortisol recovery to the TSST in both groups. Conclusions The regulation of HDACs and inflammatory pathways may represent some of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic potential of mindfulness-based interventions. Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions.
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The relaxation response (RR) is the counterpart of the stress response. Millennia-old practices evoking the RR include meditation, yoga and repetitive prayer. Although RR elicitation is an effective therapeutic intervention that counteracts the adverse clinical effects of stress in disorders including hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and aging, the underlying molecular mechanisms that explain these clinical benefits remain undetermined. To assess rapid time-dependent (temporal) genomic changes during one session of RR practice among healthy practitioners with years of RR practice and also in novices before and after 8 weeks of RR training, we measured the transcriptome in peripheral blood prior to, immediately after, and 15 minutes after listening to an RR-eliciting or a health education CD. Both short-term and long-term practitioners evoked significant temporal gene expression changes with greater significance in the latter as compared to novices. RR practice enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways. Interactive network analyses of RR-affected pathways identified mitochondrial ATP synthase and insulin (INS) as top upregulated critical molecules (focus hubs) and NF-κB pathway genes as top downregulated focus hubs. Our results for the first time indicate that RR elicitation, particularly after long-term practice, may evoke its downstream health benefits by improving mitochondrial energy production and utilization and thus promoting mitochondrial resiliency through upregulation of ATPase and insulin function. Mitochondrial resiliency might also be promoted by RR-induced downregulation of NF-κB-associated upstream and downstream targets that mitigates stress.
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We have developed a low dose Mindfulness-Based Intervention (MBI-ld) that reduces the time committed to meetings and formal mindfulness practice, while conducting the sessions during the workday. This reduced the barriers commonly mentioned for non-participation in mindfulness programs. In a controlled randomized trial we studied university faculty and staff (n=186) who were found to have an elevated CRP level,>3.0 mg/ml, and who either had, or were at risk for cardiovascular disease. This study was designed to evaluate if MBI-ld could produce a greater decrease in CRP, IL-6 and cortisol than an active control group receiving a lifestyle education program when measured at the end of the 2 month interventions. We found that MBI-ld significantly enhanced mindfulness by 2-months and it was maintained for up to a year when compared to the education control. No significant changes were noted between interventions in cortisol, IL-6 levels or self-reported measures of perceived stress, depression and sleep quality at 2-months. Although not statistically significant (p=.08), the CRP level at 2-months was one mg/ml lower in the MBI-ld group than in the education control group, a change which may have clinical significance (Ridker et al., 2000; Wassel et al., 2010). A larger MBI-ld effect on CRP (as compared to control) occurred among participants who had a baseline BMI <30 (-2.67 mg/ml) than for those with BMI >30 (-0.18 mg/ml). We conclude that MBI-ld should be more fully investigated as a low-cost self-directed complementary strategy for decreasing inflammation, and it seems most promising for non-obese subjects.
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