How Meditation Boosts Your Immune System
In this article, we will learn how meditation can also empower your immune system. Indeed, a powerful immune system can be an important contributor to good health.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is incredibly complex and is composed of network cells, organs and chemicals that are important for fighting infections and controlling cancerous growths. Inflammation is a phenomenon that is the result of an active immune system. When the immune system recognises foreign agents such as microbes within the system, it releases a range of molecules to contain and fight off the foreign organism. While inflammation is necessary to fight infection, persistent, unnecessary inflammation can in fact be harmful. Therefore, while some inflammation is necessary, too much will be detrimental. Of importance, a balance within the immune system is ideal.
Why it is important to practice meditation for better immunity?
Like most cells within the body, immune cells also respond to stress. As introduced in the endocrine section, stress hormones such as cortisol can effectively reduce the number of lymphocytes (infection-fighting cells) and dampen their ability to fight infections. In this context, meditation can boost the immune system. This will not only allow you to fight infections, but a strong immune system also keeps cancerous growths at bay. As discussed in the next section, recent research shows an immunity boost after meditation.
How can meditation improve the immune system?
Using measures of natural killer (NK) cell activation (a type of immune cell), recent data suggest that greater left-brain activation correlates with enhanced NK cell activity and an improved immune function . Such left-sided brain activation is often observed during meditation . Therefore, through regular meditation, we can supercharge our immune system.
In light of the broad impact of meditation on stress reduction, research shows that stress management through meditation can increase the numbers of anti-viral immune cells in HIV-infected men . An increase in anti-viral immune cells means an effective immune response and therefore protection against infections. This meditation-induced immune activation is not just limited to NK cells. Antibody production from immune cells can also be enhanced through regular meditation. Antibodies produced by immune cells are specialised molecules that can bind to specific pathogens or toxins and can neutralise them to prevent any damage to the body. Significant increases in antibody titres to influenza vaccine have also been observed among subjects that meditated vs the control group . What is important to note is that immune cells don’t work in isolation. To mount an effective response against infections, they have to coordinate with the entire immune system.
When the immune system is active, communication with the entire army of immune cells is necessary to elicit a coordinated response. To achieve this, cells produce inflammatory proteins such as proinflammatory cytokines e.g., IL-6, TNF-a etc. While such molecules are necessary to launch an immune response, chronic elevation of these leads to poor healing and risk of disease .
Meditation also helps with reducing unnecessary harmful inflammation. Research shows a reduction in circulating levels of IL-6 (a molecule that increases chronic inflammation) after regular meditation practice . Other studies show a reduction in TNF-a (another powerful pro-inflammatory agent) after a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, and the effects were found to be dependent on the duration of practice . Interestingly, what is also necessary for a powerful immune response is for the immune cells to hang around long enough to fight off the infection. Meditation can also help with immune cell survival.
Cell aging is an interesting concept. It is well established that all cells have genetic material encoded within their DNA. The DNA strands are protected by caps at the end of each strand with protective DNA/protein complexes called telomeres. These caps truncate after every cell division and shortened telomeres are markers of cell aging and vulnerability to cell death. However, in part, telomere length is protected by a naturally occurring enzyme called telomerase that can help slow or reverse aging . 3 studies measured telomerase activity in peripheral blood cells and indicated that after mindfulness meditation, there is a trend toward an increased telomerase activity [8, 9]. Overall, these data suggest that through a coordinated effect of meditation on the entire human physiology, a powerful immune system will be of tremendous benefit and an important contributor to good health.
I hope you found this article on The Positive impact of meditation on human physiology as fascinating as I do. My aim is that it’s provided you with valuable insights into just how powerful meditation is at holistically healing the body and mind, and reducing the risk of psychosomatic stress-related diseases.
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2. Davidson, R.J., et al., Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosom Med, 2003. 65(4): p. 564-70.
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7. Blackburn, E.H., Structure and function of telomeres. Nature, 1991. 350(6319): p. 569-73.
8. Daubenmier, J., et al., Changes in stress, eating, and metabolic factors are related to changes in telomerase activity in a randomized mindfulness intervention pilot study. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2012. 37(7): p. 917-28.
9. Lengacher, C.A., et al., Influence of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on telomerase activity in women with breast cancer (BC). Biol Res Nurs, 2014. 16(4): p. 438-47.