It Drives Down Inflammation
Chronic inflammation drives a lot of physical conditions including diabetes, certain cancers, arthritis, heart attacks, and asthma. According to some new research, meditation might tame that fire, setting your body's immune system switch back to normal. "We now have a number of studies suggesting meditative practice can turn down that inflammatory overdrive, at least to some degree," says Raison. In 2013, researchers found mindfulness meditation lowered levels of stress-induced inflammation in people who suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions like asthma or rheumatoid arthritis. And over at UCLA, Irwin and his colleagues found meditation reduced loneliness in older adults – along with the higher risk for heart disease and Alzheimer's that come with loneliness by lowering the expression of certain inflammatory genes.
Raison says we're still not 100 percent sure of how meditation works (beyond putting you in a calmer state), but one theory is that it mediates our body's response to threats to our immune system. "The best guess is that it turns down activation — you don't feel as threatened," says Raison. "And if you don't feel as threatened, you don't activate the fight or flight response in the body, like the sympathetic nervous system. Data shows when the sympathetic nervous system is activated, you get inflammation."
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