Background: Mental stress is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Meditation and music listening are two techniques that are able to counteract it through the activation of specific brain areas, eliciting the so-called Relaxing Response (RR). Epidemiological evidence reveals that the RR practice has a beneficial prognostic impact on patients after myocardial infarction. We aimed to study the possible molecular mechanisms of RR underlying these findings.
Methods: We enrolled 30 consecutive patients after myocardial infarction and 10 healthy controls. 10 patients were taught to meditate, 10 to appreciate music and 10 did not carry out any intervention and served as controls. After training, and after 60 days of RR practice, we studied the individual variations, before and after the relaxation sessions, of the vital signs, the electrocardiographic and echocardiographic parameters along with coronary flow reserve (CFR) and the carotid's intima media thickness (IMT). Neuro-endocrine-immune (NEI) messengers and the expression of inflammatory genes (p53, Nuclear factor Kappa B (NfKB), and toll like receptor 4 (TLR4)) in circulating peripheral blood mononuclear cells were also all observed.
Results: The RR results in a reduction of NEI molecules (p < 0.05) and oxidative stress (p < 0.001). The expression of the genes p53, NFkB and TLR4 is reduced after the RR and also at 60 days (p < 0.001). The CFR increases with the relaxation (p < 0.001) and the IMT regressed significantly (p < 0.001) after 6 months of RR practice.
Conclusions: The RR helps to advantageously modulate the expression of inflammatory genes through a cascade of NEI messengers improving, over time, microvascular function and the arteriosclerotic process.
Keywords: Epigenetics; Integrative cardiology; Meditation; Music therapy; Stress.