According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide. While there are many things that can purportedly lower your risk of cancer, one of the most accessible, least invasive, and beneficial ways is meditation. The following are five ways that a regular meditation practice may reduce your risk of cancer.
1. Meditation Counteracts the Effects of StressIt has been well established that chronic stress increases your risk of almost all diseases, including cancer. Chronic stress prevents the rapid creation of infection-fighting T-cells and prevents a quick immune reaction to foreign body invaders. Fortunately, meditation counteracts the effects of stress by inducing a relaxation response. During meditation, your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscular tension decrease in tandem with stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Given that high-stress lifestyles have been implicated in cancer etiology, finding a noninvasive way to decrease your stress and its effects on you without changing your environment is a goldmine for those seeking natural cancer prevention methods.
2. Meditation Lengthens Telomere StrandsChromosomes carry all the information that a cell needs to grow, exist, and thrive. Telomeres are the end caps of chromosomes. They protect chromosomes from fraying in much the same way that plastic tips on a shoelace keep the shoelace from fraying. When chromosomes are healthy, your cells are healthy too. Vibrant cells are the foundation of a healthy body. In particular, healthy cells recognize unhealthy ones, such as cancer cells, and eliminate them. Meditation is proving to not only protect the telomeres but to lengthen them, thus increasing the protection of each chromosome. Well-protected chromosomes create vibrant cells, which in turn contribute to a vital, healthy body.
3. Meditation Increases MelatoninMelatonin has been hailed as a superhero among hormones. It is produced by the pineal gland and has been linked to restful sleep, immune system enhancement, slowed aging, and, most recently, reduced severity of diseases such as cancer. Research shows that meditation significantly increases melatonin production. Not only will you sleep more soundly with the increased melatonin from meditation, you will rest easier knowing that meditation may also reduce the severity of cancer.
4. Meditation Helps Regulate Harmful EmotionsChronic emotional responses such as anger, depression, and anxiety are considered harmful because they release a cascade of hormones within the body that can, over time, degrade the bodily tissues. Cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine, catecholamines, vasopressin, gonadotropins, growth hormone, and thyroid hormones are just a few of the hormones that may be affected by stress. In fact, researchers have concluded that, “As an adaptive response to stress, there is a change in the serum level of various hormones including CRH, cortisol, catecholamines and thyroid hormone. These changes may be required for the fight or flight response of the individual to stress. However, long-term exposure to stress may lead to many deleterious consequences leading to various endocrine disorders.”
Harmful emotional responses are not as automatic as you might have been led to believe. The mind can actually be trained through specific types of meditation, such as loving-kindness meditation and compassion meditation, to more effectively process emotions, thus decreasing incidences of anger, depression, and anxiety. Both of these types of meditation have been found to activate areas of the brain involved with emotional processing and empathy. By choosing empathy over highly charged emotions, the body is not only spared from a flood of harmful hormones, it actually experiences the release of health-supporting ones such as endorphins. By flooding the body with hormones that support health and happiness while simultaneously sparing it from those that tax the body, you will create a physical environment that supports well-being rather than disease.
5. Meditation Increases the Chances that You Will Make Healthful ChoicesUnhealthy choices are often made unconsciously. These choices are byproducts of social conditioning, cultural expectations, and intrinsic cues. Meditation brings these unconscious actions to the conscious level by expanding awareness. As you become aware of the choices you are making in each moment, from what you think, eat, and say, to how you spend your time, money, and emotional energy, you can begin to consciously make life-enhancing decisions. Ellen L. Idler, Ph.D., Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Rutgers University, explains that those who engage in spiritual practices, such as meditation, are more likely to make positive, health-enhancing choices.
Practicing meditation is a bit like exercise. It has immediate feel-good effects but its true magic lies in consistent practice. The cumulative effects of meditation include increased awareness, a calmer mind, and greater health. By integrating meditation into your daily routine, you can reduce your risk of disease and increase the opportunities for ease in your life.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.