Transcendental Meditation involves sitting comfortably and closing the eyes for 20 minutes, twice a day, to achieve a quality of rest in the mind and body. A new study suggests the technique stimulates genes that produce telomerase - an enzyme linked with reduced blood pressure and mortality.
The new study is published in the journal PLOS One.
Previous studies have reported benefits linked to meditation; Medical News Today recently covered a study that suggested mindfulness meditation reduces pain.
And another study published earlier this year suggested meditation can reduce brain aging.
The researchers from this latest study - led by Dr. Robert Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, IA - say other research into Transcendental Meditation (TM) has been linked the practice to lower rates of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and death.
According to the team, stress, lifestyle and telomere dysfunction contribute to hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Telomeres are stretches of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect our genetic data.
They have often been compared to the plastic tips on shoelaces, protecting chromosome ends from fraying, which would destroy our genetic information. Shortening of telomeres has been linked with aging, cancer and a higher risk of death.
Telomerase, meanwhile, is an enzyme made of protein and RNA units that elongates chromosomes by adding sequences to the ends.
TM shown to increase telomerase gene expression
Dr. Schneider and colleagues note that hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Regarding prevalence of hypertension in the US, however, there are racial and ethnic disparities.
Namely, hypertension prevalence is 48% higher in black Americans than in white Americans, which may contribute to the 50% higher mortality rate from CVD in black Americans, compared with white Americans.
To further investigate techniques that could help with this issue, the researchers conducted a pilot trial involving 48 black men and women with high blood pressure, who were recruited and studied at Howard University Medical Center in Washington, DC.
Of the participants, half were assigned to a group that learned the TM technique and received a basic health education course, and the other half were assigned to a group that focused on achieving lifestyle modifications, including weight reduction, reducing salt intake, taking up regular physical activity and moderating alcohol intake.
Results show that after 16 weeks, both groups exhibited significant increases in telomerase gene expression and reductions in blood pressure. Furthermore, there were no major differences between the changes in the two groups.
"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," says Dr. Schneider.
"These findings are very encouraging for prevention. They show that both the Transcendental Meditation technique and active lifestyle modification can contribute to heart health."
Although the findings are significant, the authors point to some study limitations.
Firstly, they did not have an inactive control group. As such, they suggest future research "might use a three-arm design, including an inactive or placebo control group."
Additionally, the sample size of the study group was quite small, at 48 participants. The team says a larger sample size "would generate the statistical power needed to either confirm or disprove these findings."
Still, coauthor Dr. Otelio Randall, from Howard University notes that their result "is valuable new information, relevant both to cardiovascular disease and to the molecular mechanisms involved in Transcendental Meditation."
In 2014, MNT published an article by Dr. Schneider that investigated meditation's benefits for mind and body.