Mind-Body Medicine and the Immune Functions

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.

Reference:

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.

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