T’ai chi exercise may cause molecular changes in DNA and may be associated with measurable beneficial epigenetic changes, according to a new study published online in June 2012. Epigenetic changes are heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype, but do not alter the DNA sequence. Biological mechanisms such as methylation can change gene activation without altering the DNA basic structure.
The subjects included 237 female T’ai chi practitioners between 45 and 88 years of age who have been practicing T’ai chi for three years or more and 263 age-matched females that have never practiced T’ai chi. To evaluate DNA methylation profiles, researchers looked at 60 CpG-dinucleotide markers in the women.
The investigators found six CpG-dinucleotide marks originating from three different chromosomes that differed significantly between the T’ai chi practitioners and the control group. The scientists showed that, within the control group, four marks showed loss of DNA methylation and two marks showed increased DNA methylation with increasing age. The T’ai chi practitioner group showed significant slowing by five to 70 percent of age-related methylation changes in all six marks, suggesting that T’ai chi may be associated with measurable beneficial epigenetic changes.
The investigators stated, “The results implicate the potential use of DNA methylation as an epigenetic biomarker to better understand the biological mechanisms and the health and therapeutic efficacies of T’ai chi.”
Ren H, et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;841810.