Tag Archives: Wellness

It Turns out, Having a Healthy Gut Can Make You “Fear Less”

Kevin Hughes
February 5th, 2022 

 A study led by Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City has shown that a healthy gut can make you “fear less” by extinguishing your fear memories. In an article published in the journal Nature, the researchers detailed how they used mice to explore the ability to unlearn fear responses.

Exploring the gut’s role in fear response

It has become increasingly evident that gut bacteria play an important role in brain health. Previous studies showed that disruption to these microbial communities is linked to behavioral changes and certain autoimmune and psychiatric disorders.

For example, a recent study showed that a certain combination of gut bacteria exacerbates symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a brain and nerve disease. In another study, researchers found that children with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are at higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety, later in life.

But though these investigations were able to confirm the existence of a gut-brain axis, the mechanisms that underpin this axis remained unclear.

“No one yet has understood how IBD and other chronic gastrointestinal conditions influence behavior and mental health,” said co-senior study author David Artis, a professor of immunology and director of IBD research at Weill Cornell.

For their study, the researchers focused on how well mice would learn and forget a fear trigger using an experiment called “fear conditioning and extinction learning.” In this experiment, the mice are conditioned to associate a threat with the sound of a tone, so that the tone by itself can elicit the same fear response as the threat.

The mice tended to forget the association after repeated exposure to the tone, as their brains adjusted to the fact that the threat no longer exists. But the mice whose guts were germ-free from birth or whose gut microbes were vastly reduced, showed a significant reduction in their ability to learn that the threat was no longer present. This means that their brains were not updating to the new conditions.

Mechanism behind gut’s effect on fear memories

 The researchers launched a genetic investigation of the mice’s microglia to probe the molecular mechanism behind the effect. Microglia are immune cells in the brain that help stimulate and prune the connections between nerve cells to remodel brain circuits. After looking into the gene expression in the mice’s medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) – a region of the brain crucial for extinction learning – the researchers found that the absence of gut microbes altered the gene expression of microglia in the mPFC. This disrupted the formation of new nerve cells and eliminated neural connections during learning and forgetting. (Related: Is depression just a symptom of bad gut health? Study confirms link between gut and brain health.)

The team also found significant changes in the brain chemicals of the germ-free mice, including altered levels of molecules that play a role in psychiatric conditions like autism and schizophrenia. When the researchers restored gut bacteria in the germ-free mice, they found that it was possible for these mice to unlearn a conditioned fear response only if their gut bacteria were restored soon after birth.

This finding is an important one, as many psychiatric disorders linked to autoimmunity are also associated with problems that occur in the early stages of brain development. The researchers are optimistic that with further studies, their findings will eventually lead to new treatment targets.

“We are beginning to understand more about how the gut influences diseases as diverse as autism, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.” said Artis.

Learn more about the importance of a healthy gut at Digestion.news.

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Study: Love/Kindness Meditation Slows Biological Aging & Protects DNA Strands

DECEMBER 27, 2021

The Facts:

Scientists have shown that loving-kindness meditation has a positive impact at the cellular level.

The study examined how different types of meditation influenced telomere length, an indicator of physiological aging.

Cultivating compassion and friendly feelings towards others slowed the decline of telomeres.

Reflect On: Should mindfulness interventions be taught to us from a young age? Should they be included in school curriculums and perhaps implemented in the workplace? Should they be prescribed by doctors in certain circumstances?

In today’s world, where there’s no money there’s no attention. This is especially true when it comes to the medical-industrial complex, and it’s why the science behind health interventions that can be quite beneficial are not at the forefront of mainstream medicine.

The mind-body connection is one of these health interventions. A study published in 2019 is one of many that has provided proof of just how impactful mindfulness interventions can be on human biology. It’s titled “Loving-kindness meditation slows biological aging in novices: Evidence from a 12-week randomized controlled trial” and was published in the Journal  Psychoneuroendocrinology.

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The study suggests that loving-kindness meditation has a measurable positive impact at the cellular level. The study examined how different types of meditation influenced telomere length, which is an indicator of physiological aging.

Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of the strands of DNA called chromosomes. With time they get shorter. For the most part, the more we age the shorter they get. Other environmental toxins, like smoking and unhealthy habits, also contribute to the shortening of our telomeres. There are also a number of habits and substances that have been shown to slow down this process & even lengthen our telomeres, like fasting for example, which in essence means one is reversing the aging process.

“Chronological age and biological age are not identical. The former is measured in years, whereas the latter is often indexed by telomere length,” the authors explained. “Telomeres progressively shorten with cell division (i.e., aging) in general but may also be replenished or lengthened by the enzyme telomerase.”

The study was 12 weeks long and comprised of 176 participants between the ages of 35-64 years old. All of the participants had little to no meditation experience and were assigned to a 6-week long loving-kindness meditation workshop, a 6-week mindfulness meditation workshop, or a waitlist control group.

Researchers collected blood samples at the beginning and end of the study in order to measure telomere length before and after the meditation intervention.

The mindfulness meditation workshop helped the participants focus on the present moment and develop a nonjudgemental attitude. It was simply used to help bring one’s awareness into the present moment, while the loving-kindness meditation workshop focused on helping participants cultivate warm and friendly feelings towards others.

The researchers found that telomere length shortened for everybody, which is normal, but the daily practice of the loving-kindness meditation created a buffer against the decline. The researchers explained that in the loving-kindness group, there was “no significant telomere shortening over time.”

These results correlate with other studies that have looked at meditation and telomere length. Research published in the journal Cancer in 2014 found that telomeres maintained their length in breast cancer survivors who practiced mindfulness meditation. Additionally, a 2018 study in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that telomere length actually increased in meditation retreat participants after three weeks.

Feeling gratitude, which can be part of a loving-kindness meditation also changes the molecular structure of the brain. Neuroimaging studies have shown this to be true.

Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant. Now that’s a really cool way of taking care of your well-being.

UCLA Newsroom, Joan Moran.

You can read more about that here.

Other fascinating research in this area has come from the scientists at the HeartMath Institute. Their research has also shown the importance of emotions not just on our own biology, but on others as well.