New research is trumping up the legitimacy of the mind-body connection. According to a recent Canadian study, breast cancer survivors who practice mindfulness mediation may be reaping the benefits at a cellular level.
For the study, researchers looked at 88 breast cancer survivors, most of whom had completed treatment two years earlier. (The average age of participants was 55.) What’s more is that each woman who took part in the study had been experiencing high levels of emotional distress in their lives.
The women were broken up into three different groups. The first group participated in something called mindfulness-based cancer recovery, which derives from mindfulness meditation.
“The intervention is eight weeks, and the participants basically just learn how to be more mindful,” said principal investigator Dr. Linda E. Carlson, Ph.D., director of research in the Psychosocial Resources Department at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Alberta. “It’s about being more present in the moment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.”
Women in this group participated in 90-minute group sessions once a week. In addition to engaging in mindfulness meditation, they also took part in gentle Hatha yoga and were encouraged to keep up the practice at home.
Another group of women participated in what’s known as supportive expressive therapy, which prompted them to have a regular, open dialogue about their feelings. Finally, the last group of women took part in one six-hour stress management seminar.
Upon completion of the programs, researchers took blood samples to measure telomere lengths. (Telomeres, which are little caps at the end of chromosomes that protect our DNA, naturally get shorter as we age.)
“What we showed was that the women who had either one of those programs – either mindfulness meditation or the support group – their telomere lengths didn’t change from before to after,” said Carlson. “But the control women – the women who didn’t have any intervention – their telomeres got shorter.”
According to Carlson, telomere shortening is considered a marker of cell aging. It’s also associated with a greater risk for a number of illnesses, including cancer.
“This was the first time anyone had actually measured telomere length in this context,” she added.
The findings support the idea that both mindfulness meditation and support group therapy have a positive physical effect that reaches the cellular level.