Say Om: Doctors Find Meditation Affects Your Body

"Not everything gets down to the business end of the gun," said Raison, who would also have liked to see more definition of what meditation means in the study as opposed to including any forms of repetitive prayer or yoga.

Future Thoughts for Study

"Before you can say meditation does X, you've got to have a sense of what you mean by meditation," Raison said. "There's data to suggest that different meditative practices have different physical effects."

Yet Raison found the stress-related study intriguing.

"The study is consistent with other lines of emerging research, including ours," said Raison, who noted that lonely people have similar stress-related gene expression as the nonmeditating group in the study.

Another study by Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin found that people who were taught to meditate after a vaccination developed more antibodies to the virus than people who did not meditate afterward, Raison said.

According to Raison, it all falls in line with a modern-day misfiring of "danger pathways" that ramp up the body for fight or flight but also turn down the immune system and increase inflammation. If the meditation study proves correct, it could help stem these changes, along with exercise and diet.

"The gene changes have a lot to do with things that cause wear and tear on the body and the brain," said Raison. "Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, many diseases in the modern world are linked to this sort of wear and tear."

The researchers in the stress study would like to next focus on these types of individual diseases.

"If you're about to be torn apart by a tiger, these stress responses are adaptive," Raison said. "But if my boss is yelling at me every morning, these ancient responses are activated, but they are not useful."

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