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The stress experienced during competitive social situations negatively affects the gut microbiome. The experiment was performed in Syrian hamsters, animals that compete to establish hierarchies of dominant and subordinate groups. The study analyzed gut bacteria before the hamsters met and after they had competed for hierarchical placement, then compared these samples to a control group of hamsters that lived in an already established group. In the study, even a single exposure to social stress altered the gut microbiota, significantly decreasing gut bacteria diversity and composition. Repeated exposure to stress resulted in greater negative impacts on the microbiome. There was no significant difference in alterations between winners and losers; social stress in both groups led to similar changes, although the specific bacteria impacted were different between the two groups. Interestingly, higher levels of some bacteria predicted whether an animal would become a winner or loser. Behavioral Brain Research →Takeaway: Researchers say that this supports…

Relax! It may be just what the doctor ordered. While studies find that mind-body practices (yoga, meditation, etc.) that induce the relaxation response (RR) reduce blood pressure, the molecular pathways that lead to this association remain unknown. A recent study analyzed RR’s effects on gene pathways over an 8-week RR-based intervention in 58 patients diagnosed with hypertension. The intervention consisted of 20 minutes per day of diaphragmatic breathing, mantra repetition, and mindfulness meditation. Blood samples were taken for RNA analysis and results found that RR regulates 1771 genes in the following categories: immune regulatory pathways and metabolism, glucose metabolism, cardiovascular system development, and circadian rhythm. This is the first study to uncover the molecular mechanisms that support mind-body practices as an effective treatment for hypertension. The Journal of Alternative & Complimentary Medicine Society →Takeaway: While the science behind integrative treatment methods (nutrition, meditation, exercise, etc.) is oftentimes lacking, this study illustrates the profound…