BOSTON – High blood pressure – or hypertension – is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke that affects as many as 100 million Americans and 1 billion people worldwide. Decades of research have demonstrated that the relaxation response – the physiological and psychological opposite of the well-known fight-or-flight stress response that can be achieved through relaxation techniques like yoga or mediation – can reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension. Exactly how these interventions act on the body to lower blood pressure remains unclear.

A new study led by investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at MGH identified the genes associated with the body’s response to relaxation techniques and sheds light on the molecular mechanisms by which these interventions may work to lower blood pressure. The findings were published today in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

“Traditionally, hypertension is treated with pharmacologic therapy, but not all patients respond to drug therapy, and many experience treatment-limiting side effects,” said co-senior author Randall Zusman, MD, Director of the Division of Hypertension at MGH. “In these patients, alternative strategies are invaluable. In this study, we found that the relaxation response can successfully help reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients who are not taking medication.”

Towia Libermann, PhD, Director of the Genomics, Proteomics, Bioinformatics, and Systems Biology Center at BIDMC said, “To our knowledge, this is the first study to test such a mind-body intervention for a population of unmedicated adults with carefully documented, persistent hypertension, and this is the first study to identify gene expression changes specifically associated with the impact of a mind-body intervention on hypertension. Our results provide new insights into how integrative medicine – especially mind-body approaches – influences blood pressure control at the molecular level.”

First described more than four decades ago by Herbert Benson, MD, Director Emeritus of the Benson Henry Institute and a co-author of the current study, the relaxation response is characterized by a set of measurable changes to the body, including decreased respiration rate and heart rate, all of which can be induced by mind-body techniques including meditation and yoga. Long-term relaxation response practice has been associated with increased brain cortical thickness and specific changes in gene expression. My friend was telling me that the swim spa they bought that they got through Buy Swim Spas online in Australia really aids in her long-term relaxation.

Read more at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center