Back to blog Relax and Change Your Genes Barbara Moroney February 20, 2019 Learning how to relax is a lifestyle choice that can have a powerful influence on your health. One recent study in 2018 found that relaxation can lower blood pressure by modifying gene expression. Participants in this study had long-term high blood pressure. They took no medication for their condition but instead practiced mind/body relaxation techniques that elicit the relaxation response. Along with training sessions, they practiced daily for eight weeks. At the end of that time, half of them fell below the marker for clinical high blood pressure. The study correlated this significant result with changes in genes that affect immune pathways, metabolism, glucose metabolism and circadian rhythm. A total of 1771 genes showed changes.1 While this is the first study involving clinically diagnosed high blood pressure, other studies have also documented the positive effect of relaxation on gene expression. What is Gene Expression Genes produce the blueprint for manufacturing the specific proteins that a cell needs to perform its functions. While all cells in a person’s body have the same genes, their expression varies with the type of cell. For example, skin cell genes are activated to make the proteins that produce collagen. Turning genes on or off – that is activating them to produce the proteins they make, or not, is called gene regulation. You may be familiar with the concept of a gene being turned on relating to a disease or condition. It was once thought that only a structural change in DNA could modify gene expression; it is now known that both a person’s external environment – such as pollution, and internal environment – such as stress, can do so, as well. Relaxation’s Effect on Gene Expression Genes can also be activated or deactivated in ways that are beneficial to health, as evidenced in the high blood pressure study. A recent overview of multiple studies found that relaxation (mind/body) practices such as yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, breathing regulation, mindfulness meditation, as well as the relaxation response, alter gene expression. These practices repress a protein complex within cells that activates the expression of inflammation-related genes, an effect opposite to the one created by stress.2 Time and Effort to Learn How to Relax About half of the participants who completed the 2018 study experienced lowered blood pressure (the responders), and half did not (the non-responders). Given my experience with daily yoga practice, I wonder if further practice might have increased the number of responders. Daily commitment to the task of learning how to relax can make a huge difference over time. An earlier study in 2013, as one example, lends support to this supposition. This study measured gene expression during the active practice of the relaxation response mindfulness meditation. Half of the participants were experienced in one of the mind/body practices mentioned earlier and half were novices. While both groups increased the healthful expression of genes, more of the genes of the experienced practitioners were affected. Twenty Minutes a Day Helps Keep the Doctor Away? The relaxation response is both a mindfulness practice developed by Harvard physician Dr. Herbert Benson, and it is also the term Dr. Benson used to first describe the body’s ability to create an internal environment opposite to the stress response. The time spent in active relaxation that produced a change in gene expression in the 2013 study was only 20 minutes. Both the high blood pressure study and the real-time meditation study highlight the value of a consistent commitment. The IonCleanse Relaxation We at AMD are pleased that so many of our customers tell us how relaxed they feel both during and after a foot bath session. We recommend the IonCleanse as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes both regular detoxification and relaxation. 1. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Relaxation response may reduce blood pressure by altering expression of a set of genes: Researchers identified genes and biological pathways linked to immune regulation, metabolism, and circadian rhythm in people who reduced their hypertension after eight-week relaxation response training.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180404093929.htm>. 2. Walton, Alicia G. “How Meditation and Yoga Can Alter the Expression of Our Genes.” Forbes.com, June 18 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/06/19/how-meditation-and-yoga-can-alter-the-expression-of-our-genes/#f141adc237c0. 3. Massachusetts General Hospital. “Study identifies genes, pathways altered during relaxation response practice.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130501193204.htm>.