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Meditation and Immune Function: The Impact of Stress Management on the Immune System

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Open Access
OBM Integrative and
Complementary Medicine
Meditation and Immune Function: The Impact of Stress Management on
the Immune System
Nicole Thibodeaux , Matt J. Rossano , *
Department of Psychology, Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, LA 70402, USA; E-Mails:;
These authors contributed equally to this work.
* Correspondence: Matt J. Rossano; E-Mail:
Academic Editor: Soo Liang Ooi
Special Issue: Health Benefits of Meditation
OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine
2018, volume 3, issue 4
Received: July 16, 2018
Accepted: November 22, 2018
Published: December 3, 2018
As alternative forms of medicine have become increasingly popular, research on the health
benefits of meditation has grown. Specifically, Mindfulness Meditation, Transcendental
Meditation, and Qigong have been shown to be effective in treating psychological disorders,
enhancing immune function, and in delaying disease progression in patients diagnosed with
HIV, the varicella-zoster virus, and dermatomyositis. This paper briefly reviews the historical
background of the many forms of meditation and examines in detail the effects meditation
has on several markers of immune function including Natural Killer cell activity, B-
lymphocytes, telomerase activity, and CD8+ T-cells.
Meditation; immune function; inflamation; mindfulness; transcendental meditation; qigong;
stress management
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1. Introduction
1.1 A Brief Introduction to Meditation
Despite rapid advances in health care recently, more traditional forms of treatment have
gained popularity, as many people, dissatisfied with modern medicine, have been attracted to
alternative therapies. One explanation for this shift may be the increase in the median age of the
population, as well as the heightened attention on chronic illness and deaths related to individuals’
lifestyles [1]. Another explanation may lie in the postmodern thesis [2]. In brief, this thesis
suggests a negative correlation between social change and individuals’ faith in science and
technology. As the pace of societal change increases, individuals are less certain that advances in
science and technology will solve society’s problems. This includes scepticism about medicine’s
ability to address individual health problems. This may help to explain why one of humanity’s
oldest forms of spiritual and therapeutic practicemediationhas become increasingly popular,
especially in the West. This popularity has spurred a substantial amount of research interest as
Meditation first emerged in Eastern cultures many centuries ago, as an integral part of both
Hindu and Buddhist religious practice. Though the exact time of origin is unknown, the earliest
written references to meditation date as far back as the ancient Indian Vedasa collection of
Hindu scriptures written between 1500 and 1000 BCE. By 500 BCE, new forms of meditation began
to develop in Buddhist India and Taoist China. Buddhism, in particular, propelled the spread of
meditation throughout Asia, and the development of the Silk Road expedited its transmission
westward beginning around the First Century CE [3].
However, interest in Eastern forms of meditation did not truly take root in America until the
post-War period. In the 1960’s, the Hippie subculture emerged, initially as a resistance movement
to the Vietnam War. In time, this movement grew frustrated with American materialism, social
conservatism and Middle-Class cultural norms in general. As part of this ‘rebellion,’ Hippies
embraced the use of psychoactive drugs and Eastern spiritual practices as means of achieving
‘higher’ levels of consciousness [4]. Simultaneously, the United States also saw the arrival of
Eastern Spiritual teachers due to an expansion of Soviet influence in India, the Cultural Revolution
in China, the Communist Chinese takeover of Tibet and Mongolia, and an increase in the political
influence of Chinese Communism in Korea and Southeast Asia [5]. Thus, both internal cultural
changes and external social/political events led to an opening to Eastern meditative practices in
the West.
With its introduction to the West came investigations into the potential health benefits of
meditation. Most notable among these early investigations was the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn (whose
studies will be discussed in more detail later). Kabat-Zinn's approach sought to isolate the health-
relevant, materialist or 'secular' aspects of meditation. While this was important scientifically, an
unintended by-product of it (among the general public, at least) was a glossing over of important
cultural or religious distinctions among different meditative forms. Such 'Westernizing' or
'Americanizing' of meditation created definitional challenges as various Eastern practices were
lumped into one, often over-simplified, category [6]. While acknowledging that the distinctions
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outlined in this review are still rather general, it is important to recognize that at least three
distinct forms of mediation have been found to have important health implications: Mindfulness
Meditation, Transcendental Meditation, and Qigong.
1.2 Mindfulness Meditation
One of the earliest standardized forms of Mindfulness Meditation began in 1979 with Jon
Kabat-Zinn’s creation of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program [7]. In brief,
mindfulness is one of the stages listed in Buddha’s eightfold path—designed as a pathway to
enlightenment and, in turn, a prescription to end suffering. The eight divisions of the path,
focusing on ethical conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom are as follows: right understanding
(samma ditthi), right thought (samma sankappa), right speech (samma vaca), right action (samma
kammanta), right livelihood (samma ajiva), right effort (samma vayama), right concentration
(samma samadhi), and mindfulness (samma sati). It should be noted these divisions are not
dependent on one another and not intended to be followed in a linear fashion [8]. Mindfulness is
achieved when the individual develops an uninvolved awareness of his or her body, sensations,
feelings, and states of mind [9]. Mindfulness does not equate to thought suppression. Instead, an
individual who has reached a state of mindfulness has a non-elaborative awareness of thoughts,
feelings, and sensations. Thus, passing thoughts or feelings are acknowledged but in a detached,
non-judgmental way [10]. In doing so, the individual is able to free their attention and fully
experience all aspects of life, coping with negativity in a healthy way. Kabat-Zinn based his 8-week
program on this definition, suggesting it be used to accompany modern medicine in the
management of stress-related disorders and chronic pain.
While the underlying mechanisms that make Mindfulness Meditation effective are not fully
understood, researchers believe shifts in self-regulation, values clarification, and cognitive-
behavioural flexibility play important roles [11]. Through self-regulation, individuals free
themselves from maladaptive behaviours and ruinous thoughts by gaining authority over their
responses. Mindfulness equates to being fully present in the moment, requiring skill in sustained
attention and switching of attention [10]. Sustained attention consists of maintaining focus on the
present, while attention switching requires bringing attention that has strayed back to the present.
This allows individuals to understand and disengage from passing thoughts and behaviours,
keeping their attention in the ‘immediate now’.
Similarly, values clarification allows individuals to rediscover their own values, rather than the
values of society. Through the discovery of these values, individuals develop greater skill in
mastering their thoughts and actions in a manner congruent with their beliefs. Cognitive and
behavioural flexibility evolve in conjunction with self-regulation and values clarification. By
disciplinging one’s thoughts with self-regulation and changing one’s behaviours through values
clarification, individuals become more flexible and adaptive in their responses. Rather than
initiating autonomic or reactive responses, individuals become aware of the present situation,
evaluate its importance, and excercise greater skill in choosing beneficial reactions.
A by-product of mindfulness practice is often an increase in the breadth of one’s emotional
experience. By enhancing one’s awareness of sensory, cognitive, and behavioural states,
individuals allow themselves ‘space’ to consciously process and understand their emotional
reactions rather than having those emotions overwhelm them. Gaining insight into one’s
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emotional reactions leads to a recognition that those reactions are temporary and tolerable,
subsequently reducing fear and feelings of defeat.
In sum, while Mindfulness Meditation as practiced today is often heavily Americanized, in his
original implementation of the MBSR, Kabat-Zinn intertwined Buddhist teachings with Western
culture to construct an effective intervention program. The program has gained widespread
acceptance. As of 2015, almost 80% of medical schools in the United States implemented some
form of mindfulness training for their students [12]. Additionally, research supports the
effectiveness of such interventions, as they have been shown to have positive effects on stress-
related ailments, psychiatric disorders, and disease symptomatology [13-15].
1.3 Transcendental Meditation
Similarly, Transcendental Meditation (TM) is another type of stress reduction technique,
focused on the integration of the mind and body. During the process of transcending, individuals
utilize a mantraa sound without meaning repeated within the mindto quiet their thoughts
until their mind reaches the silent state of transcendental consciousness. The mantra is used as a
focal point for the individual, allowing all other thoughts to be disregarded. If the individual is
successful, the body will enter transcendental consciousness wherein it is calmed and quieted. The
individual’s heart rate and breathing begin to slow, counteracting the increases typically seen
during a stress response [16]. This quieted physiological state can have positive impacts on stress
related ailments and diseases. Most notably, research has shown that TM may improve outcomes
for those diagnosed with hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol [16-19].
1.4 Qigong
Qigong, which includes slow, coordinated movements, controlled breathing, and meditation is
yet another method implemented to improve the relationship between the breath, the body, and
the mind [20]. Controlled movements are meant to strengthen and stretch the body, while
controlled breathing and meditation are used to quiet the mind, inducing a state of relaxation.
More recently, medical Qigong has been developed as a variation of the traditional Chinese
technique, with the sole intent to treat and cure disease. In this variation, practitioners employ qi
in their treatment of illnesses [21].
While qi has not been scientifically verified, it is believed to be a vital life force that flows
through meridians, or channels, in the body. The movements and meditation associated with
Qigong are thought to increase the flow of qi, promoting balanced energy and health within the
individual, while strengthening performance of both the mind and body [22]. As with Mindfulness
and Transcendental Meditation, Qigong has several documented benefits including the treatment
of psychosomatic disorders and hypertension while also reducing sympathetic nervous system
activity (flight or fight responding) and enhancing parasympathetic activity through increasing
individuals’ relaxation response [23, 24].
Though the mechanisms may only be partially understood, it seems clear that meditative
practices such as MBSR, TM, and Qigong have positive self-reported health effects. An important
step in further elucidating these mechanisms is to investigate the physiological implications of
meditative practices. Recently, a considerable amount of research attention has focused on
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meditation and immune system function. It appears that one of the pathways by which meditative
practices improve health is by enhancing immune function.
2. Results
2.1 Meditation and Immune Function
A wide array of research has been conducted examining the relationship between meditation
and immune function. From the outset, it should be understood that immune function can be
complex and mere increases in immune cell numbers or activity do not necessarily mean that
health or healing are significantly improved. However, bolstering immune function is typically
advantegous to health, and activities (such as mediation or exercise) that appear to do that are
often encouraged by health practioners.
Mind and body share a bidirectional relationship. Psychoneuroimmunology is a term used to
describe the interaction between psychological factors, the central nervous system, and the
neuroendocrine system [25]. In reference to the relationship between the central nervous system
and the neuroendocrine system, animal research has shown that brain lesions in the left and right
hemispheres produce different effects on immune function [26]. In addition, it has also been
shown that these two systems utilize a biochemical language consisting of shared hormones,
neurotransmitters, and cytokines, to effectively communicate [27]. Furthermore, psychological
factors, such as stress and emotions, influence the brain-immune relationship. Specifically, acute
stressors enhance immunity while chronic stressors suppress immune function [28].
2.2 Regulation of the Immune System
The up and down regulation of immune function may be seen as an adaptive mechanism
regulated by stress hormones. The chronic release of stress hormones can create an allostatic load
(a form of physiological 'wear and tear') producing immune system dysfunction and suppression
[29, 30]. For instance, chronic stress impairs immune system response [31] as well as triggering
inflammation [32, 33]. Specifically, elevated corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) provokes the
production of pro-inflammatory cytokines [34]. Negative emotions can also suppress immune
function through their tendency to promote telomere shortening and increased NFkB activity [35-
38]. However, as mentioned earlier, mind-body effects are bi-directional. The stress-reduction and
positive affect associated with meditative practices can undo many of the physiological reactions
leading to inflammation and reduced immune function brought on by negative emotions and
2.3 Inflammation and Meditation
As previously mentioned, chronic stress suppresses immune function. One pathway through
which this occurs is the inflammatory response. In brief, immune cells produce inflammatory
cytokinesproteins that regulate the immune response to injury and infectionwhich have either
pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory effects. Pro-inflammatory cytokines promote inflammation
as an early defence against injury or infection. These cytokines consist of interleukin 1 (IL-1),
interleukin 6 (IL-6), interleukin 8 (IL-8) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α [39]. In addition, C-
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reactive protein (CRP) is an acute inflammatory protein, which acts as a marker of inflammation
due to an increase in CRP levels when inflammation occurs [40]. Specifically, IL-6 stimulates the
production of CRP [41]. Nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB) also plays a role in inflammation. NFκB is
responsible for mediating the synthesis of pro-inflammatory cytokines [42]. Like CRP, NFκB activity
is increased with inflammation. The chronic elevation of NFκB activity is associated with
inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and atherosclerosis.
Chronic elevation of pro-inflammatory cytokines hinders the body’s ability to heal wounds and
fight infections as well as increasing individuals’ risk for ailments such as heart disease, type 2
diabetes, and osteoporosis [43]. Furthermore, elevated IL-6 and CRP are associated with an
increased risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality [40]. Psychological stress is known to elevate
both IL-6 and CRP [37, 44], thus producing increased levels of circulating pro-inflammatory
cytokines [45-47], dampening the immune response to infection and injury [39]. Mindfulness
interventions, however, are known to reduce stress, and have been shown to decrease pro-
inflammatory cytokines, including: IL-6 [45, 48, 49], TNF-α [50, 51], CRP [45, 52-54], and NFκB [48,
52, 55-58]. In this way, mindfulness practices protect the immune system from the stress- and
emotion-triggered physiological processes that degrade it. Meditations benefits, however, go
beyond just being protective. Evidence indicates that it can enhance immune function as well.
2.4 Natural Killer Cells, B-lymphocytes, and Meditation
Meditation enhances immune function through different mechanisms. Several studies have
shown that different forms of meditation result in an increase in natural killer (NK) cells and B-
lymphocytes. NK cells are white blood cells that target and kill stressed or abnormal cells, playing a
role in tumour prevention and serving as an early defence against viral infections. A decrease in
these cells may result in the development or progression of different forms of cancer, acute and
chronic viral infections, and various autoimmune diseases [59]. Similarly, B-lymphocytes are
responsible for antibody production, which attack invading viruses, toxins, and bacteria. In
addition, B-lymphocytes also regulate homeostasis through wound healing, rejection of
transplants, and the activation of T-cells [60].
Regarding the association between these immune components and meditation, research has
shown an increase in NK activity in healthy individuals who practiced a form of yoga entailing TM
mediation techniques [61]. Eight advanced yoga instructors were directed to engage in different
forms of meditation. Specifically, the instructors participated in a form of rhythmic breathing,
called pranayama, which was then followed by a period of meditation using a mantra, similar to
that used in TM. NK activity was then measured through blood samples collected at the beginning
and end of each activity. It was found that NK cell activity was increased during pranayama,
correlated with a significant increase in alpha wave activity in the brain signalling a state of
reduced stress. Therefore, researchers concluded that the stress reduction associated with
rhythmic breathing is capable of increasing NK activity, strenghtening immune function.
In addition, the regular practice of TM has been shown to affect the number of circulating B-
lymphocytes and NK cells [62]. Researchers compared anxiety levels and immune cell activity
between a group of advanced TM practitioners and a control group, consisting of participants
unfamiliar with yoga or meditation. Both groups consisted of healthy individuals, following a
Mediterranean diet. While there was no significant difference in anxiety levels, blood samples
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revealed thatTM practitioners had more B-lymphocytes and NK cells than the control group. This
raises the possibility that TM could bolster immune function leading to an increased ability to
combate infection and disease. However, given the scarcity of studies directly addressing this issue,
empirical validation of this is yet to be firmly established.
In contrast, Qigong has been shown to reduce the proportion of NK cells, while increasing the
number of B-lymphocytes [63]. In this study, participants consisted of forty-three healthy, non-
athlete university students, who had no previous experience with yoga or meditation. Twenty-five
participants were instructed to attend a qigong class for thirty minutes three times per week,
lasting for one month. Researchers encouraged these participants to practice additional qigong
outside of class, but did not require it. Eighteen individuals composed the control group who
received no Qigong training or practice. Blood samples from all participants were collected when
the study began, after the last Qigong class concluded, and an additional sample was collected one
month after the classes ended. Immediately after the last Qigong session, the experimental group
had a lower percentage of NK cells. However, this group also had a higher number and percentage
of B-lymphocytes. The reduction in NK cells could be due to the movement component present in
Qigong. NK cells are known to be more sensitive to exercise, depending on several factors such as
intensity, duration, and the time between activity and blood collection [64]. By contrast, B-
lymphocytes are hypothesized to be more sensitive to relaxation [65]. Thus, the reduction in NK
cells may not be entirely unexpected given the nature of Qigong.
It is important to note that similar research, while not finding significant evidence for a change
in NK cells, did find an increase in the cytotoxic activity of the NK cells [66]. Blood samples
collected immediately after a Qigong intervention showed an increase in the cytotoxicity of NK
cells but no change in the number of NK cells present, with the increase in cytotoxicity lasting for
two hours post exercise. An increase in cytotoxicity allows the NK cells to more effectively
diminish threatening cells. In sum, this evidence suggests that TM and Qigong significantly
influence NK cells and B-lymphocytes, positively altering immune function.
2.5 Telomeres, Telomerase Activity, and Meditation
Meditation has also been found to positively influence telomerase activity in immune cells.
Human DNA consists of caps, called telomeres, located on the end of each chromosome. These
‘caps’ can offer protection from cellular deterioration and senescence, which occur when a
telomere becomes too short, preventing cellular division [67-69]. Oxidative damage is known to
shorten telomeres, a condition significantly associated with cell aging and higher rates of mortality
in humans [70, 71]. Other factors that affect telomere length include age, poor diet, sedentary
lifestyles, lack of sleep, smoking, overconsumption of alcohol, and psychological stress.
Telomerase is an enzyme responsible for regulating telomere length. Increasing telomerase
levels, which in turn increases its activity, provides a buffer against the degeneration of telomeres
associated with oxidative damage [67]. While this enzyme is abundant in stem cells [72], it is
generally found in very low levels or not at all in somatic cells [73, 74]. Research has shown that
physical exercise and a healthy body mass index (BMI) may promote telomerase [75, 76].
Additionally, meditation may be associated with longer telomeres [35, 77-81] and increased
telomerase activity [80-84]. In one study, for example [84] nearly one hundred healthy individuals
participated in a yoga and meditation intervention five times per week for twelve weeks. While
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blood samples did not show a substantial change in telomere length, telomerase activity was
significantly increased compared to baseline levels.
A similar effect was found in individuals diagnosed with breast cancer. Lengacher et al. [83]
implemented a MBSR program with breast cancer survivors. As with healthy individuals, the breast
cancer survivors showed no difference in telomere length but telomerase activity was significantly
increased when compared to the control group. While more research is needed to fully
understand the mechanisms responsible for this change, increased telomerase activity in response
to yoga and meditation may be due to the relationship between telomerase and cortisol levels
[81]. Stress responses trigger a release of CRH further increasing oxidative damage [34]. As
previously stated, meditation may decrease stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which increase
cortisol levels and lower telomerase activity [70, 85]. While a relationship among meditation,
telomeres, and telomerase activity exists, further research will likely be necessary to unravel the
exact mechanism(s) at work.
2.6 CD8+ T-Cells and Meditation
Another biological indicator of the positive effects of meditation on immune system function is
the activity of CD8+ T-cells. These are white blood cells responsible for removing damaged and
infected cells, preventing the spread of viruses and cancers. These cells are known to increase as a
result of strenuous exercise [86]. During periods of prolonged physical stress, such as the stress of
vigorous exercise, the presence of CD8+ T- cells in the blood is known to increase. However, in the
recovery period after prolonged stress, CD8+ T-cells drop below baseline leading to immune
system suppression and increased vulnerability to infection. Some evidence suggests [87] that by
moderating the initial CD8+ T-cell increase under stress, meditation can reduce the recovery-
period immune system suppression and therefore the individual's vulnerability to infection.
Similarly, meditation has also been documented to increase the antibody response to injections
of the influenza vaccine, in correlation with increase activation of anterior, left-hemisphere areas
of the brain [88]. Anterior left-hemisphere brain activity is known to be associated with positive
emotions [89] as well as increases in NK cell activity [90]. Davidson et al. recruited twenty-five
individuals to practice meditation for an eight-week period, followed by an injection of the
influenza vaccination. As expected, participants experienced greater left-sided brain activation
both immediately after and four months after the intervention as compared to controls. In
addition to the brain activation, meditators also showed a significant increase in antibodies to the
influenza vaccination when compared to the control group. This suggests that meditation has the
capability to bolster acute immune response to infection.
2.7 Disease Progression and Meditation
Several studies report a significant effect of meditation in the treatment of various diseases. In
HIV positive individuals, meditation has been shown to increase T-cell counts [91], as well as NK
cell numbers and activity [92]. While the specific mechanisms responsible for these increases are
unknown, researchers suggest that the reduction in depression and stress-reducing effects of
meditation may play a key role. Specifically, MBSR interventions have been shown to decrease
depression and negative affect in healthy individuals [93], as well as HIV positive individuals [94].
This relationship is further supported by evidence demonstrating the adverse effects of stress and
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depression on HIV acceleration, including immune suppression and deceleration of CD4+ T-
lymphocyte levels [95-97]. It should be noted that HIV progression is measured by an individual’s
CD4+ T-cell counts, with lowered levels signifying progression of the disease [98]. These
lymphocytes are responsible for the activation of other immune cells, such as B-lymphocytes and
CD8+ T-cells, which destroy damaged and infected cells. A depletion of CD4+ T-lymphocytes, as
seen in HIV, leaves the body susceptible to a wide array of viruses, as well as an accelerated
progression of HIV [99]. Research has demonstrated that meditation may delay HIV progression by
safeguarding against the destruction of CD4+ T-lymphocytes by the virus and in some cases,
increasing the amount present [100-102]. Additionally, Robinson et al. [92] found evidence of
increased NK cell numbers and cytotoxic activity of cells of HIV positive individuals following a
MBSR intervention. Therefore, through meditation’s stress-reducing effects, it has the potential to
significantly slow the progression of HIV by enhancing immune function.
Single-subject designs have also been used to study the effects of meditation on disease
progression and immune function. While these studies have obvious limitations, they can be
advantegous in that symptomological severity and change can be mapped in detail. One such
study revealed the ability of an experienced meditator to modulate her immune system after
being injected with the varicella-zoster antigen, better known as the virus responsible for
chickenpox and shingles. Through meditation and the direction of “healing energies” to the site of
injection, the individual successfully delayed skin hypersensitivity and inhibited lymphocyte
response to the varicella-zoster antigen [103].
Another single-subject study used two forms of mind-body intervention to help a patient
recovering from dermatomyositis, an inflammatory disease leading to muscle weakness and itchy,
painful rashes. Specifically, transcendental meditation and visual imagery were shown to lead to
remission by improving arm strength and reducing rash and pain on the hands [104]. As with HIV,
psychological stress has negative implications for dermatomyositis through immune suppression.
While the specific cause of this disease is unknown, its etiology is similar to that of autoimmune
diseases. Consequently, stress reduction acquired through meditation has the ability to effectively
improve immune function, reducing the symptomology associated with the disease.
3. Conclusions
Practicing meditation has several benefits, including reducing the severity of psychological
disorders and stress-related ailments, increasing immune function, and delaying the progression
of various diseases. Researchers have found that Mindfulness Meditation, Transcendental
Meditation, and Qigong interventions have positive effects on individuals’ NK cell activity and
proportions, B-lymphocyte numbers, and telomerase activity, while also keeping CD8+ T-cell
numbers stable during times of high stress. In addition, meditation has also been shown to
increase antibody response in individuals injected with the influenza vaccine. Similarly, HIV
positive individuals practicing meditation showed increased T-cell and NK cell counts and NK cell
activity, slowing the progression of the virus. Similarly, positive effects have also been observed in
an individual injected with the varicella zoster antigen as well as a patient diagnosed with
dermatomyositis. However, an important limitation of these findings needs to be acknowledged:
the extent to which these positive effects in immune function are robust enough to prevent
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disease, significantly speed healing, or increase longevity is still largely unknown. Definitively
answering these questions requires further empirical work.
While still very much in its infancy, scientific studies of meditation are providing compelling
evidence of the relevance of the mind-body connection in human health. In times past, ritual and
spiritual practices were humanity's primary forms of health care. With the advent of modern
medicine, those practices have often been dismissed as part of our irrational, superstitious past.
We note with a bit of irony, that it is science itself which offers validation for the effectiveness of
these practices (at least in under some circumstances). Furthermore, science offers a mechanism
by which meditative practices reap their physical rewards. By altering attitudes, perceptions, and
cognitions, meditation reduces stress, which in turn strengthens immune function. A more robust
immune system is advantageous to health, healing, and longevity.
The authors thank the editors of this special addition of OBM Integrative and Complementary
Medicine for the opportunity to write this review. Acknowledge the people or organization(s) that
have technically supported this work, excluding fund provider.
Author Contributions
The authors contributed equally to the writing of the paper.
Competing Interests
The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
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... With its commencement in the western regions, various studies describe promising benefits of meditation on health. Most significant among these primary studies was the experimentation of Jon Kabat-zin (Thibodeaux and Rossano, 2018), who integrated the practice of sitting meditation along with body scan and yoga in his MBSR eight-week programme, which teaches complete attentiveness in day-to-day practice. Kabat-Zinn (Black et al., 2014) explained mindfulness as 'rendering attention on objectives, in the present situation and non-judgmentally, to the unravelling of experience very quickly as time passes'. ...
... Moreover, approaches such as mindfulness training for the examination in the selfish-selfless range are getting into mainstream clinical care for treating stress and pain. It is essential to identify that at least three different kinds of meditation have been established to have significant implications on health, i.e. qigong, TM and mindfulness meditation (Thibodeaux & Rossano, 2018) (Figure 7.3). ...
... Consequently, elapsing feelings or thoughts are recognised but in a non-judgmental and disconnected manner. Thus, the person is capable of freeing their consciousness and completely experiencing all attributes of life, overcoming negative thoughts and feelings in a healthy manner (Thibodeaux & Rossano, 2018). ...
Stress is the root cause of all diseases; it makes the human body release stress-related hormones (i.e. cortisol and epinephrine) and slows down or ceases lots of essential body functions, including digestion, metabolism and cellular uptake of glucose, nutrients and oxygen, which may lead to acidosis. Furthermore, it incapacitates the immune system and delays the healing processes of the body. Persistent stress is related to lots of harmful psychological and physiological outcomes that constitute a considerable concern for the public’s health. If the stress is not managed with time, it can lead to an increased risk of emotional disturbances, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular diseases, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and low self-esteem. Meditation and mindful breathing have been stated to reduce the body’s stress response and are accountable for preventing the detrimental effects. This chapter will discuss the detrimental effects of stress on the human body, how stress affects the hormonal secretions, what meditation is and what its types are, what the effects of meditation are on inflammatory markers and EEG of the brain, how deep breathing and meditation help in reducing blood pressure and how meditation stimulates the immune system and the capability of the body to heal.
... However, the diversity across sites did seem to provide some internal replications to support the robustness of the findings, which followed a generally consistent pattern between cohorts. Finally, biometric data were not included in this analysis, although the use of such measures, particularly those identified in prior research on the health benefits of contemplative practices, such as markers of immune system function [20,86], salivary cortisol, heart rate, heart rate variability [87], blood pressure [36], electroencephalogram (EEG) [88], and MRI and fMRI [89], would strengthen future investigations. ...
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Positive associations between well-being and a single contemplative practice (e.g., mindfulness meditation) are well documented, yet prior work may have underestimated the strength of the association by omitting consideration of multiple and/or alternative contemplative practices. Moreover, little is known about how contemplative practice behavior (CPB) impacts different dimensions of well-being. This study investigates the relationship of CPB, consisting of four discrete practices (embodied somatic-observing, non-reactive mindfulness, self-compassion, and compassion for others), with multiple dimensions of well-being. As with other canonical lifestyle behaviors, multiple contemplative practices can be integrated into one’s daily routine. Thus, it is critical to holistically consider these behaviors, extending them beyond a simple uni-dimensional measure (e.g., daily mindfulness meditation practice). We developed an integrative measure of four types of contemplative practice and found it to be significantly associated with a multi-dimensional measure of well-being. Importantly, our findings were from three large global multi-regional cohorts and compared against better-understood lifestyle behaviors (physical activity). Data were drawn from California/San Francisco Bay Area, (n = 6,442), Hangzhou City (n = 10,268), and New Taipei City (n = 3,033). In all three cohorts, we found statistically significant (p < 0.05) positive associations between CPB and well-being, both overall and with all of the constituent domains of well-being, comparable to or stronger than the relationship with physical activity across most well-being outcomes. These findings provide robust and cross-cultural evidence for a positive association between CPB and well-being, illuminate dimensions of well-being that could be most influenced by CPB, and suggest CPB may be useful to include as part of fundamental lifestyle recommendations for health and well-being.
... These include stress reduction, decreased anxiety [ 19] . Interestingly, previous studies have found that meditation has the potential to improve the immune systems of the body, which can help prevent and cure illnesses, which it has been linked to a variety of health advantages [20,21]. ...
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This study aimed to compare the effectiveness of Court-type traditional Thai massage (CTTM) with Meditation versus CTTM without meditation in decreasing pain stiffness and degree of cervical range of motion (CROM) on participants with myofascial pain syndrome (MPS) on the upper trapezius. The single-blind randomized controlled trial was conducted at Thammasat University Hospital comprising of 64 participants which equally divided into 2 groups. The treatment group received CTTM for 30 min plus meditation and the control group received only CTTM for 30 min each subject received the treatment twice a week for 4 weeks. Assessment of effectiveness was performed by comparing Visual analog scale (VAS), pressure pain threshold (PPT) and CROM were assessed at week 0 (baseline), week 1 - 4 (intervention) and week 6 (follow-up). The VAS and PPT pain score had shown significant differences in both the CTTM plus meditation and CTTM only groups (p < 0.05), whereas the CROM involving flexion, extension, left lateral flexion, and right lateral flexion increased significantly in the CTTM plus meditation but not in CTTM only groups at all assessment time points (p > 0.05). Moreover, all of the measurement were not significant between two groups. These findings showed that both CTTM paired with meditation and CTTM without meditation could alleviate MPS, as evidenced by improvements in VAS, PPT and CROM. Taken together, this research could provide an alternative for people who desire to improve their health by combining CTTM and meditation. HIGHLIGHTS This research insists that Court-type traditional Thai massage plus meditation using neural pathways that make the brain less sensitive to pain Court-type traditional Thai massage combined with meditation has the positive effect pressure pain threshold and cervical range of motion Court-type traditional Thai massage plus meditation may be involved three factors; neurological factors, physiological factors, and mechanical factors to be responsible for reducing pain levels, increasing in pressure pain threshold and improving cervical range of motion
... In HIV positive individuals, meditation has been shown to increase T-cell counts, as well as NK cell numbers and activity. 21 ...
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Today, we are living in the era of developed science and technology in which human being has no utopia and generally human being now days, thinks logically and will not accept anything unless the results are beneficial, tangible, vivid and personal. In ancient times, ritual and magical practices were humanity's crucial forms of health care. Vipassana (Buddhist meditation) is one of the India's prehistoric meditative practices with the help of which Siddharth Gautama became the Buddha 2,500 years ago. Meaning of Vipassana is “Insight”, (Mindfulness meditation) and it is a Pali word. Though, human being is now living in the era of developed science and technology but at the same time world is facing serious problems which threaten all mankind. After the WWII, the Coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak has become the most devastated disaster for human and its socio-economic development in the world. It seems that only Vipassana meditation has the capacity to eradicate total sufferings of human being. Anicca (Impermance), Dukkha (suffering) and Anatta (non-substantiality) are the basic teachings of the Buddha which is the foundation of Vipassana meditation. It is said that change is the only constant thing in this universe and Crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic has proved it. Vipassana can provide an approach to live life with this constant change. Demands for unconventional forms of medicine have increasing day by day and it is being proving that there are numerous health benefits of Vipassana meditation. This paper briefly reviews the Vipassana (Buddhist meditation) and its benefits for human beings during this Covid-19 pandemic.
... However, the complicated relationship between meditation, sleep, and improved performance remains unclear and warrants further investigation. In another review, Thibodeaux and Rossano [19] examined the impact of meditation on immune function. Meditation appears to affect positively on natural killer cell activity and proportions, B-lymphocyte numbers, and telomerase activity while keeping CD8+ T-cell numbers in check during times of high stress. ...
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Introduction: The connection between psychological issues and the immune system is one of the most controversial issues in the world of modern science. It is important to pay attention to psychological states due to involvement with immunological factors in chronic diseases. Psychological interventions stimulate the immune system leads to positive health consequences. Psychological interventions affect health and the immune system in a variety of ways. The aim of this study was to summarize recent studies on the effect of mindfulness-based interventions immune response based on a systematic review of research texts. The present study is a descriptive review and according to the implementation method, it is one of the systematic review studies. Searching for research history using the following electronic databases using English and Persian keywords Immune system, Mindfulness since 2005 Up to 2019 were collected. After searching and evaluating on 13 articles. Results were qualitatively reported. Conclusion: Various studies have shown that patients receiving mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy reported lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety, and that this treatment improved the immune system in a variety of immune indicators.
Objectives Virtual reality (VR) opens a variety of therapeutic options to improve symptom burden in patients with advanced disease. Until to date, only few studies have evaluated the use of VR therapy in the context of palliative care. This case series aims to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of VR therapy in a population of palliative care patients. Methods In this single-site case series, we report on six palliative care patients undergoing VR therapy. The VR therapy consisted of a one-time session ranging between 20 to 60 minutes depending on the patient's needs and the content chosen for the VR sessions. A semi-structured survey was conducted and the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) and the Distress Thermometer were performed pre- and post-intervention. Results Overall, VR therapy was well accepted by all patients. Five out of six patients reported having appreciated VR therapy. There were individual differences of perceived effects using VR therapy. The semi-structured survey revealed that some patients felt a temporary detachment from their body and that patients were able to experience the VR session as a break from omnipresent worries and the hospital environment (“I completely forgot where I am”). There was a considerable reduction in the total ESAS score post-treatment (T0 ESAS Tot = 27.2; T1 ESAS Tot = 18.8) and a slightly reduction in distress (T0 DT Tot = 4.4; T1 DT Tot = 3.8). However, two patients were more tired after the intervention. Significance of Results: Our preliminary results demonstrate that VR therapy is acceptable, feasible and safe for use within a palliative care population and appears to be a viable treatment option. Clinical trials are both warranted and necessary to confirm any therapeutic effects of VR therapy, as is the need to tailor VR systems better for use in palliative care settings.
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C-reactive protein (CRP) is an acute inflammatory protein that increases up to 1,000-fold at sites of infection or inflammation. CRP is produced as a homopentameric protein, termed native CRP (nCRP), which can irreversibly dissociate at sites of inflammation and infection into five separate monomers, termed monomeric CRP (mCRP). CRP is synthesized primarily in liver hepatocytes but also by smooth muscle cells, macrophages, endothelial cells, lymphocytes, and adipocytes. Evidence suggests that estrogen in the form of hormone replacement therapy influences CRP levels in the elderly. Having been traditionally utilized as a marker of infection and cardiovascular events, there is now growing evidence that CRP plays important roles in inflammatory processes and host responses to infection including the complement pathway, apoptosis, phagocytosis, nitric oxide (NO) release, and the production of cytokines, particularly interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-α. Unlike more recent publications, the findings of early work on CRP can seem somewhat unclear and at times conflicting since it was often not specified which particular CRP isoform was measured or utilized in experiments and whether responses attributed to nCRP were in fact possibly due to dissociation into mCRP or lipopolysaccharide contamination. In addition, since antibodies for mCRP are not commercially available, few laboratories are able to conduct studies investigating the mCRP isoform. Despite these issues and the fact that most CRP research to date has focused on vascular disorders, there is mounting evidence that CRP isoforms have distinct biological properties, with nCRP often exhibiting more anti-inflammatory activities compared to mCRP. The nCRP isoform activates the classical complement pathway, induces phagocytosis, and promotes apoptosis. On the other hand, mCRP promotes the chemotaxis and recruitment of circulating leukocytes to areas of inflammation and can delay apoptosis. The nCRP and mCRP isoforms work in opposing directions to inhibit and induce NO production, respectively. In terms of pro-inflammatory cytokine production, mCRP increases interleukin-8 and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 production, whereas nCRP has no detectable effect on their levels. Further studies are needed to expand on these emerging findings and to fully characterize the differential roles that each CRP isoform plays at sites of local inflammation and infection.
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This study was designed to explore the impact of Yoga and Meditation based lifestyle intervention (YMLI) on cellular aging in apparently healthy individuals. During this 12-week prospective, open-label, single arm exploratory study, 96 apparently healthy individuals were enrolled to receive YMLI. The primary endpoints were assessment of the change in levels of cardinal biomarkers of cellular aging in blood from baseline to week 12, which included DNA damage marker 8-hydroxy-2′-deoxyguanosine (8-OH2dG), oxidative stress markers reactive oxygen species (ROS), and total antioxidant capacity (TAC), and telomere attrition markers telomere length and telomerase activity. The secondary endpoints were assessment of metabotrophic blood biomarkers associated with cellular aging, which included cortisol, β -endorphin, IL-6, BDNF, and sirtuin-1. After 12 weeks of YMLI, there were significant improvements in both the cardinal biomarkers of cellular aging and the metabotrophic biomarkers influencing cellular aging compared to baseline values. The mean levels of 8-OH2dG, ROS, cortisol, and IL-6 were significantly lower and mean levels of TAC, telomerase activity, β -endorphin, BDNF, and sirtuin-1 were significantly increased (all values p<0.05 ) post-YMLI. The mean level of telomere length was increased but the finding was not significant ( p=0.069 ). YMLI significantly reduced the rate of cellular aging in apparently healthy population.
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Mindfulness refers to an awareness that emerges by intentionally focusing on the present experience in a nonjudgmental or evaluative manner. Evidence regarding its efficacy has been increasing exponentially, and recent research suggests that the practice of meditation is associated with longer leukocyte telomere length. However, the psychological mechanisms underlying this potential relationship are unknown. We examined the telomere lengths of a group of 20 Zen meditation experts and another 20 healthy matched comparison participants who had not previously meditated. We also measured multiple psychological variables related to meditation practice. Genomic DNA was extracted for telomere measurement using a Life Length proprietary program. Highthroughput quantitative fluorescence in situ hybridization (HT-Q-FISH) was used to measure the telomere length distribution and the median telomere length (MTL). The meditators group had a longerMTL (p =0.005) and a lower percentage of short telomeres in individual cells (p= 0.007) than those in the comparison group. To determine which of the psychological variables contributed more to telomere maintenance, two regression analyses were conducted. In the first model, which applied to the MTL, the following three factors were significant: age, absence of experiential avoidance, and Common Humanity subscale of the Self Compassion Scale. Similarly, in the model that examined the percentage of short telomeres, the same factors were significant: age, absence of experiential avoidance, and Common Humanity subscale of the Self Compassion Scale. Although limited by a small sample size, these results suggest that the absence of experiential avoidance of negative emotions and thoughts is integral to the connection between meditation and telomeres. Keywords Telomere length . Mindfulness . Experiential avoidance . Compassion
Telomeres are the protective end-complexes at the termini of eukaryotic chromosomes. Telomere attrition can lead to potentially maladaptive cellular changes, block cell division, and interfere with tissue replenishment. Recent advances in the understanding of human disease processes have clarified the roles of telomere biology, especially in diseases of human aging and in some aging-related processes. Greater overall telomere attrition predicts mortality and aging-related diseases in inherited telomere syndrome patients, and also in general human cohorts. However, genetically caused variations in telomere maintenance either raise or lower risks and progression of cancers, in a highly cancer type–specific fashion. Telomere maintenance is determined by genetic factors and is also cumulatively shaped by nongenetic influences throughout human life; both can interact. These and other recent findings highlight both causal and potentiating roles for telomere attrition in human diseases.
A new frontier in treatment for mental illnesses and other chronic conditions may not come from pharmaceutical companies, but from within, as mindfulness practices gain traction.
Background Qigong is an ancient form of health maintenance, dating back thousands of years, which is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Numerous physical as well as mental benefits have been classically ascribed to this traditional mind-body method which integrates slow body movements, breathing, and meditation. Albeit we have already reported an immunomodulatory action of qigong in other investigations, measures were then assessed 1 day after the qigong program ended. Purpose The aim of the present study was to assess the acute effects of Taoist qigong practice on immune cell counts in healthy subjects 1 h after training. Method Forty-three healthy subjects participated in the study of whom 25 were randomly allocated to the experimental group and 18 to the control group. The experimental subjects underwent daily qigong training for 1 month. Blood samples for the quantification of immune parameters (number and percentage of monocytes, neutrophils, eosinophils, total lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, and natural killer (NK) cells) were taken the day before the experiment commenced and 1 h after the last session of the training program ended. As statistical analysis, analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was performed. Results Statistically significant differences were found between the experimental and control groups, with the experimental group showing higher values in the number (p = 0.006) and the percentage (p = 0.04) of B lymphocytes, as well as lower values in the percentage of NK cells (p = 0.05), as compared to control. Conclusion This study demonstrates that Taoist qigong is able to exert acute immunomodulatory effects on components of both innate as well as adaptive immune response.
The notion that cell senescence might, ultimately, be central to human aging has been attractive but unsubstantiated for the past four decades. Recent genetics and cell biology work has strongly supported this position. The model has been criticized, largely because few understand what the model actually says about aging. The cell senescence model (often mislabeled the "telomere theory of aging") suggests that changes in gene expression within senescent cells underlie most common age-related pathology, for example those occurring in the coronary arteries in atherosclerosis. It does not suggest that most somatic cells senesce, but rather that those cells which do senesce (e.g., endothelial cells, chondrocytes, fibroblasts, keratinocytes, microglia, hepatocytes, etc) are common denominator of human aging and age-related disease as well as the most efficient point for therapeutic intervention. The cell senescence model of human aging remains elegant and consistent with all known data on human aging and disease; an appropriate criticism is that it remains yet unproven.