Practising meditation has a positive physical impact at the cellular level in breast cancer survivors, new research shows.
The team found that telomeres- protein complexes at the end of chromosomes- maintain their length in breast cancer survivors, who practise meditation or are involved in support groups.
Although the disease-regulating properties of telomeres are not fully understood, shortened telomeres are associated with several disease states as well as cell ageing while longer telomeres are thought to be protective against disease.
"We know that mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally but for the first time, we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology," said Linda E. Carlson, director of research in the psychosocial resources department at Alberta Health Services' Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
The study involved 88 breast cancer survivors.
In the Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery group, participants attended eight weekly, 90-minute group sessions that provided instruction on mindfulness meditation and a gentle Hatha form of yoga.
Participants were also asked to practise meditation and yoga at home for 45 minutes daily.
In the Supportive Expressive Therapy group, participants met for 90 minutes weekly for 12 weeks and were encouraged to talk openly about their concerns and their feelings.
"It was surprising that we could see any difference in telomere length at all over the three-month period studied," Carlson added.
Further research is needed to better quantify these potential health benefits but this is an exciting discovery that provides encouraging news, the authors concluded.
The study was published online in the journal Cancer.