Studies have shown that spirituality and health are related.
“Spiritual practices tend to improve coping skills and social support, foster feelings of optimism and hope, promote healthy behavior, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and encourage a sense of relaxation,” says the University of Maryland.
“By alleviating stressful feelings and promoting healing ones, spirituality can positively influence immune, cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels), hormonal, and nervous systems.”
Japanese scientists investigated the biological basis for the relationship between spiritual/religious involvement and psychological/physical functions. Their study included ten professional Buddhist priests and 10 non-priests of matching ages. Participants completed questionnaires related to empathy, diet and lifestyle.
Participants also provided blood samples. Equipment for measuring gene expression and metabolic profiles included an Agilent Bioanlayzer System.
There was no significant difference in healthy lifestyle behaviors and daily nutrient intakes between the priests and non-priests. However, the priests showed significantly higher empathy, and the study observed a significant correlation between empathy and the molecular markers identified in the priests.
Microarray analyses revealed the priests shared up-regulation of seven genes related to anti-viral protection mechanisms and inflammatory responses. The priests had higher levels of plasma free amino acids, indicating a higher ability to adapt under different environmental conditions. And brain choline levels in the priests suggest improved memory performance and cognitive function.
The researchers believe that “repeated exposure to specific environments or conditions during common religious/spiritual practices might trigger long-lasting changes.”
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