Study shows meditation benefits cancer survivors' bodies

Study shows meditation benefits cancer survivors' bodies


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CALGARY — It isn’t news that meditation soothes the mind, but researchers are now claiming it bolsters the body as well, specifically in cancer survivors.

According to researchers at Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary, participating in mindfulness meditation causes positive cellular changes in breast cancer survivors.

“We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology,” said Dr. Linda E. Carlson, principal investigator and director of research in the Psychosocial Resources Department at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, in a news release.

Carlson and her crew found that something called telomeres, which are protein complexes at the end of chromosomes believed to prevent diseases, were longer in breast cancer survivors who practiced meditation or were involved in support groups and shorter for those who sought no intervention, according to the study.

Further research is needed to better quantify these potential health benefits, but this is an exciting discovery that provides encouraging news.

–Dr. Linda E. Carlson

Eighty-eight emotionally distressed cancer survivors participated in eight weekly yoga and meditation sessions, 12 weekly support group sessions and one six-hour stress-management seminar.

Each survivor, who had been finished with cancer treatments for at least three months, had her blood analyzed and her telomere length measured before and after the study, and researchers found their telomeres were longer than they were before, the study said.

“I was skeptical at first and thought it was a bunch of hocus-pocus,” said Allison McPherson, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. “But I now practice mindfulness throughout the day and it’s reminded me to become less reactive and kinder toward myself and others.”

Researchers do not know if the effects from mindfulness meditation and support groups on telomere length are long-lasting, Alberta Health Services' news release said.

“It was surprising that we could see any difference in telomere length at all over the three-month period studied,” Carlson said in the release. “Further research is needed to better quantify these potential health benefits, but this is an exciting discovery that provides encouraging news.”

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Megan Marsden Christensen


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