Tag Archives: gene expression

Loneliness, Happiness Affect Gene Expression, Health

Loneliness not only feels bad, but it’s also bad for your health.

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

Subjective social isolation is a known social epidemiological risk factor that has been linked to heart disease, viral infections and cancer.

In addition, loneliness has physical effects on gene regulation and expression, according to DNA microarray analyses of 209 gene transcripts (the first step in synthesizing a protein) out of more than 20,000 in white blood cells of 14 volunteers.

Louise Hawkley

Louise Hawkley

UCLA’s Steve Cole, Jesusa Arevalo, and Caroline Sung collaborated with Robert Rosen of University of Texas and University of Chicago’s Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo to report that individuals who reported high loneliness on Daniel Russell’s UCLA Loneliness Scale showed different gene expression in circulating leukocytes than volunteers who did not report loneliness.

Daniel Russell

Daniel Russell

Lonely individuals were less able to ward off inflammatory responses and viruses, and less able to produce antibodies because controlling genes were under-expressed.
In contrast, lonely individuals were at risk for greater inflammatory responses and more active immune systems  because the related genes were over-expressed.

These volunteers showed “down-regulation” of genes supporting mature B lymphocyte function and type I interferon response, when researchers controlled for effects of circulating cortisol levels, demographic, psychological, health risk, medications, or social network factors.

The social experience of loneliness desensitizes glucocorticoid receptors and reduces cortisol’s immune control and anti-inflammatory effects.

Cole’s team found that loneliness was more dependent on the number of close relationships rather than the total number of acquaintances.
This suggests the importance of cultivating meaningful social relationships for both social support, reciprocity, and for enhanced health.

Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara Fredrickson

Cole, and Arevalo collaborated with UCLA colleague Jeffrey Ma and University of North Carolina’s Barbara Fredrickson, Karen Grewen, Kimberly Coffey, Sara Algo, and Ann Firestine to consider the impact of different types of happiness on gene expression in 80 adult volunteers.

They evaluated two types of happiness:

  • Eudaimonic well-being,“ a Socratic ideal based on leading a virtuous life, striving toward a meaningful purpose, pursuing “worthwhile” service, and more fully developing personal capabilities
  • Hedonic well-being,” focused on pleasure, consumption, and enjoyment.
Karen Grewen

Karen Grewen

Fredrickson’s team compared leukocyte basal gene expression profiles for volunteers who reported hedonic well-being in contrast to those who reported eudaimonic well-being.
The team also considered negative psychological and behavioral factors.

People with high levels of hedonic well-being showed “up-regulated” pro-inflammatory genes and decreased expression of genes involved in antibody synthesis and type I IFN response in peripheral blood mononuclear cells during stress [conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA)].

Kimberly Coffey

Kimberly Coffey

In contrast, volunteers with high levels of eudaimonic well-being showed CTRA down-regulation, suggesting less stress on body systems.

Fredrickson and team concluded that “genes can tell the difference” between a purposeful life and a more pleasure-centric life, even when self-reports do not distinguish between these two types of happiness.

Ann Firestine

Ann Firestine

These finding suggest the importance of pursuing prosocial purposes and developing meaningful, trust-based relationships with others to experience greatest health and happiness – down to your genes.

-*How have you seen social relationships and mood affect immunity to illness and stress?

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Evidence-Based Stress Management – Mindful Attention – Part 2 of 5

Workplace stress reduces employees’ ability to concentrate and pay attention to work, but mindfulness training can enhance these skills while reducing stress.

Matthew Killingsworth

Matthew Killingsworth

Inattentiveness and distraction are both frequent and unpleasant, according to Harvard’s Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert.
They surveyed more than 2,000 adults, who reported that 47 percent of the time, their focus was not on their current activities.
In addition, these volunteers reported being less happy when distracted.

Lee Ann Cardaciotto

Lee Ann Cardaciotto

Another way to measure distraction and attentiveness is The Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale, developed by La Salle University’s Lee Ann Cardaciotto and James Herbert, Evan Forman, Ethan Moitra, and Victoria Farrow of Drexel University.
This tool provides a baseline measure of potential need for stress management and mindfulness training, and can demonstrate impact of training.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Current approaches to stress management training are typically based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which trains participants to focus on breathing, which slows respiration and heart rate, and triggers the “relaxation response.”

Wendy Hasenkamp

Wendy Hasenkamp

Using these frameworks, Emory’s Wendy Hasenkamp, Christine Wilson-Mendenhall, Erica Duncan, and Lawrence Barsalou investigated the neurological activity during distraction and mind-wandering experiences using fMRI scans of 14 meditators.

Participants focused on breathing and pressed a button when they realized their minds were wandering, then returned focus to the breathing.
Scans pinpointed active brain regions before, during, or after the button press.

Erica Duncan

Erica Duncan

Hasenkamp and team proposed four intervals in a cognitive cycle, based on button-pressing patterns:

  • Mind wandering (default mode activity), controlled by the medial prefrontal cortex, leading to  self-focused thoughts
  • Awareness of mind wandering (attentional subnetworks)
  • Shifting of attention (executive subnetworks)
  • Sustained attention (executive subnetworks).
Lawrence Barsalou

Lawrence Barsalou

These experienced meditators disengaged attention and deactivated medial prefrontal cortex more quickly after identifying mind-wandering, suggesting that their mindfulness practice helped them voluntarily shift from perseverative, ruminating thoughts.
They demonstrated increased connectivity between default mode and attention brain regions, enabling less default mode activity while meditating.

Britta Hölzel

Britta Hölzel

Besides reducing stress, mindfulness meditation trains attention, improves working memory, fluid intelligence, introspection, and standardized test scores, according to Britta Hölzel team at Harvard and Justus Liebig Universität Giessen.
In addition, mindfulness meditation has shown beneficial results in comprehensive treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and sexual dysfunction.

Fadel Zeidan

Fadel Zeidan

Hölzel’s group conducted anatomical magnetic resonance (MR) images for 16 volunteers with no previous mindfulness meditation experience before and after they participated in the 8-week training program.
Gray matter concentration increased in the meditators’ left hippocampus, posterior cingulate cortex, temporo-parietal junction, and cerebellum, areas responsible for learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

Further support for mindfulness meditation’s value in reducing perceived stress and anxiety comes from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Fadel Zeidan.
His study identified brain areas activated and deactivated during meditation and participants reported that anxiety decreased by 39 percent during practice.

Norman Farb

Norman Farb

Mindfulness meditation training modifies the way people experience themselves over time and in the present moment, according to University of Toronto’s Norman Farb and six collaborators.
The team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine monitoring of two self-reference processes:  Focus on enduring traits (’narrative’ focus) or momentary experience (’experiential’ focus).

They compared participants with no previous meditation experience, and volunteers who completed an 8-week mindfulness meditation training to increase attention on the present.

Herbert Benson

Herbert Benson

Brain scans of inexperienced and experienced meditators differed significantly in tasks that required these two forms of self-awareness: the self across time and in the present moment.
These two experiences are usually integrated but can be dissociated through mindfulness attention training.
Results suggest that mindfulness training enables people to focus on the present moment without the distraction of intrusive, ruminative thoughts which can increase stress.

Manoj Bhasin

Manoj Bhasin

Mindfulness-based stress management has significant long term effects by modifying gene expression.
Harvard’s Herbert Benson, who led research on “the relaxation response” almost four decades ago, along with colleagues including Harvard’s Manoj Bhasin and Abbott Northwestern Hospital Jeffery Dusek and four others, assert that meditation evokes “a specific genomic response that counteracts the harmful genomic effects of stress.”

Jeffrey Dusek

Jeffrey Dusek

Genes associated with inflammation and stress are less active and those involved in energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance are activated.

Bhasin, Dusek and team measured peripheral blood transcriptome in experienced and inexperienced meditators before and after they listened to a relaxation response-inducing tape or a health education message.

Both short-term and long-term practitioners showed significant temporal gene expression changes with a greater effect among the experienced meditators.

This and other research evidence supports the effectiveness of mindfulness attention training as a stress management practice.
Mindful attention training enables people to voluntarily control body processes like respiration and heart rate, which reduces perceived stress.
The practice can induce calm thoughts that reciprocally reduce the physical expressions of stress.

Jonathan Smallwood

Jonathan Smallwood

Like other stress management techniques, this practice requires willingness and commitment to take full advantage of benefits demonstrated in lab studies.

If efforts to cultivate mindfulness falter, mind-wandering or “self-generated thoughts” can be channeled away from self-referential worries to enable creativity problem-solving and planning.

Jessica Andrews-Hanna

Jessica Andrews-Hanna

Max Planck Institute’s Jonathan Smallwood and Jessica Andrews-Hanna of University of Colorado argue that “a wandering mind helps project past and future selves.”

Thomas Suddendorf

Thomas Suddendorf

Similarly, University of Queensland’s Thomas Suddendorf and Michael Corballis of University of Auckland posit that this hindsight and foresight enables experience and memory integration into a sense of self through this “mental time travel.” 

Michael Corballis

Michael Corballis

University of California, Santa Barbara’s Benjamin Baird collaborated with Jonathan Smallwood and four colleagues to evaluate the impact of mind-wandering on a creativity task during a demanding task, rest, or an undemanding task.

Benjamin Baird

Benjamin Baird

They found that engaging in an undemanding task during an incubation period led to substantial performance improvements, suggesting the value of mind-wandering to develop creative solutions.

Although mindfulness training has been reliably associated with effective stress management, even moments of mind-wandering can be channeled to productive ends in creative problem-solving.

-*How applicable are mindfulness attention training practice for workplace stress?

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RELATED POSTS

Motivation to Manage Stress

Mindful Attention (Part 2)

Social Support (Part 3)

Music (Part 4)

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Look for related posts on:

  • Vitamins and Probiotcs (Part 1)
  • Social Support (Part 3)
  • Music (Part 4)
  • Physical Exercise (Part 5)

Twitter:  @kathrynwelds
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