Meditation could influence your gene expression, according to a new study. A team of researchers from Wisconsin, Spain, and France have discovered evidence that a period of mindfulness meditation can cause a range of molecular alterations within the body. The findings may inspire new palliative treatment options for people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions.

Today, it is generally accepted that meditation entails a number of emotional benefits, including stress relief, improved self-awareness, and a reduction of negative reasoning. However, few research efforts have looked at the actual physiological mechanisms behind these benefits. The new study, which is published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, sought to investigate this by analyzing cellular responses.

To investigate, the team enrolled a number of experienced meditators in an experiment. Each participants was asked to provide a genetic sample before and after an eight-hour mindfulness session. Their values were then compared to those of an untrained control group who had engaged in non-meditative activities for the same duration.

According to study author Richard J. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the results suggest that meditation is associated with a number of genetic and molecular differences. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice," the researchers wrote. "Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs.”

While the American Heart Association already classifies meditation as a preventative measure against inflammatory disorders, the new study could provide an explanation of the biological mechanisms behind such health benefits. Among other things, meditation appears to down-regulate a group of genes known as histone deacetylase (HDAC). "The regulation of HDACs and inflammatory pathways may represent some of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic potential of mindfulness-based interventions," lead author Perla Kaliman of the Institute for Biological Research of Barcelona in Spain told reporters. "Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions."

Mindfulness meditation is not the only activity that can have a positive impact on your genes. Earlier this month, researchers from Tel Aviv University published a paper outlining the range of genetic alterations associated with beer and coffee consumption. In another study, researchers from the University of North Carolina show how different types of happiness can influence our fundamental being.