About Chromosomes, Stress and the Miracle Weapon Meditation
Author: Florin Mihail
Issue No: 92
In an exciting way, Florin Mihail shows how stress shortens our lives and how, conversely, meditation can contribute to a longer and healthier life. Using scientific evidence, he shows us the connections between biology and meditation. Scientific studies show: Meditation has an impact on our chromosomes.
First, a little dose of biology. It is well known that the chromosomes in cells that have a proper nucleus (that is, those of plants, animals and, of course, humans) can be viewed most readily when cell division is stopped and a so-called karyogram is made. For example, it was found that humans normally have 23 pairs of chromosomes. Each chromosome consists of two identical halves (chromatids) held together by a connecting piece (centromere). Biochemically, the chromatids consist of a double strand of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), ribonucleic acid (RNA), histones and other proteins.
The chromosomal end piece is called “telomere” (Greek telos = target, end and meros = part).
About 80 years ago, Barbara McClintock found that when the telomeres are damaged, the chromosomes tend to stick together, affecting both division and cell survival.
The chromosome ends are not information carriers per se, but perform important protective functions. These include preventing accidental sticking/fusion with other chromatids and protecting them against possible degradation by enzymes and resulting shortening. In 2009, Elisabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their groundbreaking research on the structure and functions of telomeres.
Why are telomeres so important?
We know that our body cells renew themselves from time to time through cell division. During this process, the double helix is opened and the individual strands are exposed, after which each half serves as a template for the rebuilding of the DNA molecule. Unfortunately, with each re-synthesis, a final, tiny piece of the chromatid always remains single-stranded and is not replicated.
Thus, without counter-regulation by the cell, chromatids would become shorter by the length of the final piece with each cell division. If this erosion were to reach the proximal end of the telomere, silencing of important functional genes could occur. This is why telomerase now comes into play. The enzyme, also called “telomeric terminal transferase”, was discovered by Carol Greider (also a Nobel Prize winner in medicine in 2009). The task of telomerase is to lengthen the worn-out ends of telomeres again by gluing matching pieces of DNA to the end of the free strand, so that even after a large number of division steps, the telomeres do not disappear.
Why do our cells die?
At the microscopic level, we talk about two main factors for aging: chronic inflammatory responses and shortening of telomeres. Shorter telomeres are the result of incomplete repair on the DNA strand by telomerase, as its activity continuously decreases or disappears as the organism ages. Accordingly, the cell nuclei “live on the substance” until a critical chromosome length is reached.
At that point, a signaling cascade starts in the cell that initiates cessation of growth or genetically programmed cell death.
As early as 1962, based on knowledge at that time about the shortening of telomeres, the “Hayflick limit theory” was developed. It states that the life span of a human being can be a maximum of 120 years due to cells that no longer divide. I therefore call telomeres “the hands of our biological clock”.
Our knowledge in this regard comes from measurements of some biomarkers in the white blood cells or other types of cells in humans or laboratory animals. These are the length of telomeres, the activity of the enzyme telomerase and the activity of genes that control telomerase activity. The value of the parameters is considered internationally valid; it gives a representative impression in terms of biological age of the whole organism. The general conclusions are:
Telomeres become shorter with increasing age.
The life expectancy of individuals who are 60 to 75 years old is directly correlated with telomere length.
A lack of telomerase activity causes the organism to age significantly faster.
A reduced telomerase activity and consequently the occurrence of shorter telomeres can have many causes. A genetic predisposition, age and also age-related diseases are among them, they can hardly be avoided.
However, other unfavorable factors could be influenced. These include some infections, higher blood levels of adrenal hormones, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, insufficient sleep, a poor lipid profile, and insulin resistance/pathological blood glucose levels. Shorter telomeres result, which in turn promote inflammation, especially in some immune cells. It is then only a small step from pathological changes in cells to the onset of diseases of old age.
About the author: Florin Mihail
Florin Mihail is a biologist, healer and graduate of a multi-year course in “Spiritual Healing”. While still in college in Bucharest, Romania, he began yoga training under the guidance of his master, Ion Vulcanescu. Further yoga studies followed at the German Yoga Society under S. Feuerabendt. For several decades he has been engaged in various aspects of spirituality and esotericism, some of the results of which he has been able to report in the form of publications and lectures.
This article appeared originally on the German Homepage of Tattva Viveka: Achtsamkeit für ein langes Leben