Techniques in mind-body medicine such as meditation have many psychological and physiological benefits. They are especially helpful for health maintenance and promotion. However, it is still not very clear how these mind-body methods may affect the immune system.
A recent meta-analysis assessed published results from available controlled trials to examine the impacts of mind-body techniques on the immune functions (Morgan et al., 2014). Some of these effects were the influences on inflammatory biomarkers and anti-viral associated immune reactions.
The mind-body methods in the study included more than four weeks training of meditation, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, or Yoga. A total of 34 published studies with more than 2,000 participants from 9 countries were qualified for the meta-analysis (Morgan et al., 2014).
The trials were analyzed using three outcomes measures: “inflammatory, anti-viral related immunity, and enumerative” (Morgan et al., 2014). The meta-analysis found that in the category of inflammatory measures, 7 to 16 weeks of mind-body training resulted in significantly decreased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), with non-significant reductions of interleukin-6 (IL-6). CRP and IL-6 are commonly used inflammatory biomarkers.
In the categories using anti-viral related immune and enumerative measures, non-significant influences on the CD4 counts and natural killer cell counts were observed (Morgan et al., 2014). Evidences have also been found that the mind-body interventions may promote the immune responses to vaccination.
The meta-analysis confirmed that the mind-body interventions may have immunomodulatory effects and can lower the levels of inflammatory biomarkers (Morgan et al., 2014). Such programs may also improve virus-specific immune reactions to vaccination.
However, more clinical studies are still needed to examine their effects using the anti-viral or enumerative measures. Larger trials with different groups of population would be helpful for evaluating the clinical outcomes of these mind-body methods, especially their effects on the immune functions. Studies on more inflammatory biomarkers would also be useful for evaluating the impacts on inflammation.
Morgan N, Irwin MR, Chung M, Wang C. The effects of mind-body therapies on the immune system: meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2014 Jul 2;9(7):e100903. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0100903.