Can meditation strengthen your immune system?

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Author: Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, December 23, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Meditation conducted at an intensive level can bring significant impetus to the inner workings of your immune system.

The finding follows a blood sample analysis that took recordings of genetic activity before and after meditation among more than 100 men and women.

That analysis suggested it meditation stimulated the activity of hundreds of genes known to be directly involved in the regulation of the immune response.

But the researchers pointed out that their study included a 10-hour daily marathon meditation sessions held for eight days in a row in complete silence. In the real world, most people would be under a lot of pressure to replicate these methods.

Nevertheless, the findings “suggest that meditation could play an important role in treating a variety of diseases associated with a weakened immune system,” said study author Vijayendran Chandran.

“Yes, this is an intense retreat,” admitted Chandran, an assistant professor of pediatrics and neuroscience at the University of Florida School of Medicine. “But remember, it was only eight days. Long meditation for [a] a short duration each day can also improve the immune system. ”He admitted that his team had not tested a less stringent option.

Chandran, however, went through that walk himself. Prior to starting his studies, he completed his own 48-day program that included approximately 20 minutes of daily meditation at home.

Because of this experiment, Chandran felt clearer and more focused. So he decided to dive deeper to explore the precise underlying molecular mechanism by which meditation could benefit the body.

The study involved 106 men and women, with an average age of 40 years. All were enrolled in a meditation conducted at the Isha Institute of Inner Sciences in McMinnville, Tenn.

Multiple blood samples were taken from all participants several times: five to eight weeks before withdrawal; immediately before the start of the withdrawal and three months after the end of the withdrawal.

The eight-day retreat provided all participants with vegan cuisine, and all followed a regular sleep schedule. The meditation sessions lasted 10 hours a day and were conducted in silence.

The result: three months after the withdrawal was completed, Chandran and his colleagues found an increase in activity involving 220 genes linked to the immune system, including 68 genes involved in so-called “interferon signaling.”

The study’s authors pointed out that such signaling can be key to establishing effective defense against a variety of health conditions – including Cancer, Multiple sclerosis or even COVID-19 – depending on that interferon proteins they act effectively as immune system drivers.

Among severely ill patients with COVID-19, Chandran pointed out, insufficient interferon activity was cited as a problem.

He explained that it was found that almost all (97%) “interferon response genes” were activated after withdrawal of mediation. But relying on publicly available data on gene activity obtained from patients with COVID-19, Chandran and his colleagues reported that figure was 76% among those with mild COVID disease and only 31% among the most severe cases.

At the same time, the researchers found that although the activity of the inflammatory signaling gene remained stable after deep meditation, such signaling increased among critically ill patients with COVID-19.

The apparent impact on molecular activity observed among retreat participants persisted even after diet and sleep patterns were considered, the researchers noted, although the findings do not conclusively prove that meditation actually caused gene changes.

Even so, Chandran said the results suggest that meditation could one day merge into newly developed “behavioral therapies [designed] to maintain brain health and modify currently irreversible neurological diseases. “

The results were released Dec. 21 at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

One expert not involved in the study said the findings were – though not surprisingly – encouraging.

“Many previous studies have discussed the positive association of meditative practices on mental and physical health,” said Alex Presciutti, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado Denver.

“This study greatly contributes to this literature by identifying potential mechanisms that trigger the protective role of meditative practices on mental and physical well-being,” he added.

“Based on this study, we cannot claim that the average person meditating at home would experience the same‘ strengthening of immunity ’as in this study,” Presciutti warned. “However, given the abundance of literature on the benefits of meditative practice for well-being, it is likely that the ‘average person meditating at home’ will experience some degree of benefit.”

More information

More about the potential medical benefits of meditation at American National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

SOURCES: Dr. Vijayendran Chandran, Assistant Professor, Pediatrics and Neuroscience, Department of Pediatrics, University of Florida, Gainesville; Alex Presciutti, MA, PhD in Clinical Psychology, University of Colorado Denver; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, December 21, 2021

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