RELAXING the mind and body through transcendental meditation (TM) could help to improve cardiovascular health, according to a recent study. A team of researchers led by Dr Robert Schneider, Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA, studied the effects that various techniques, including TM, might have on reducing blood pressure and hypertension. Encouragingly, they found that TM reduced the blood pressure of the subjects by stimulating the genes that produce telomerase.
An enzyme that is linked with reduced blood pressure and mortality, telomerase elongates chromosomes that hold telomeres. Telomeres are stretches of DNA at the end of chromosomes that hold the important role of protecting our genetic data. The dysfunction of telomeres, as well as stress and lifestyle, contributes to hypertension, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) that is prevalent in over 40% of black American adults. This statistic is nearly twice as high as in white American adults, which could explain why black Americans have a 50% higher mortality rate from CVD than white Americans.
Addressing this issue, the study led by Dr Schneider recruited 48 black men and women with high blood pressure to take part in the 16-week trial. Half of the participants learned TM and received a basic health education course, while the other half focussed on achieving lifestyle modifications such as taking up regular physical activity and moderating alcohol intake.
The results showed that telomerase gene expression increased significantly in both groups, and blood pressure was significantly reduced. “The finding that telomerase gene expression is increased, and that this is associated with a reduction in blood pressure in a high-risk population, suggests that this may be a mechanism by which stress reduction improves cardiovascular health,” Dr Schneider commented.
Due to the study limitations, such as the fact that there was no inactive control group, and the small sample size of the study, the team suggests that more studies should be done to confirm or disprove their findings. Nonetheless, the results raise a point of consideration as to the importance of TM in cardiovascular medicine.