I have written about the benefits of meditation on several occasions, from how it slows ageing, can make us happier, helps us develop and maintain and calm state, and even how it impacts our genes.
So I just couldn’t wait to tell you about an amazing new study that can give hope to people who have or have had breast cancer.
Scientists at the University of Calgary, led by Dr Linda E. Carlson, clinical psychologist and professor of psychosocial oncology, measured telomeres (I’ll tell you a bit more about them in a mo) in breast cancer survivors who did a Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery (MBCR) program or who attended Supportive-Expressive Group Therapy (SET).
OK, telomeres first. They’re the little end-caps on DNA that help stop it unravelling. They’re a bit like the little plastic caps on shoelaces that help stop them unravelling. Gradually, as we age, through the effects of stress, lifestyle and ageing, telomeres get shorter. Once they get too short, the cells expires, just as your shoe laces are pretty much done when the plastic cap is gone. Telomere research seems to suggest that longer telomeres help protect us from disease and that telomere length is correlated with the likelihood of surviving diseases, including breast cancer and cellular ageing. In other words, if our telomeres stay healthy, our cells stay healthy, we stay healthy, and we live longer.
The scientists compared the telomeres of patients doing MBCR or SET against a control group of patients.
How the study was done
Breast cancer patients (stages I – III) who had completed treatment at least 3 months earlier were randomised into 3 groups.
One group attended MBCR sessions once a week for 8 weeks, which involved meditation and gentle yoga. The sessions were 90 minutes long and the women were also given CDs for doing the meditation and yoga at home.
One group attended 3 months’ worth of weekly 90-minute SET sessions. Each session encouraged openness and emotional expression and helped cultivate a group emotional support system. Some describe these sessions as ‘emotional detox’.
A third group – the control group – simply attended a 6-hour stress management seminar, which represented standard treatment.
The scientists found that while telomeres had shortened in the control group, telomeres didn’t shorten at all over the 3-month period in the groups who did MBCR or SET. In other words, meditation, yoga, and emotional expression seemed to have a protective effect on cells.
Think about what this means! Basically, meditation, yoga, and emotional support are having a positive effect at the cellular level on breast cancer survivors.
I wanted to share this because there are so many people in the world these days affected by cancer, whether themselves, or it’s someone in their family, one of their friends or colleagues. As you may know, I lost my beloved dog, Oscar, to cancer just over 3 months ago. I think the more ways we know how to deal with cancer the better.
I love studies like this because they are empowering. The give hope where sometimes hope is very low. They show us that this is something that we can do. It’s something that we can take control of.
If you want a little more info or guidance on how to do MBCR or SET, here’s a link to the scientific paper. Here’s also some links to a book written by Linda Carlson called ‘Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery: A Step-by-Step MBSR Approach to Help You Cope With Treatment and Help You Reclaim Your Life’ (Amazon UK Amazon.com) that also gives info on how to use MBCR.