Mindfulness meditation represents an increasingly popular strategy for dealing with life’s challenges. Recent research has suggested that mindfulness meditation may have beneficial effects on emotional wellbeing. But, how deep do these effects go? Can mindfulness meditation influence immune system processes that directly affect health?
In their new article appearing in the prestigious journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Drs. David Black (USC) and George Slavich (UCLA) conducted the first comprehensive review of all existing randomized controlled studies that have been done on the topic. The review included data from 1,602 participants. The data revealed that mindfulness meditation appears to influence some mechanisms that are known to underlie human disease and aging. However, existing studies are limited and additional research is needed to confirm these effects.
Of the effects that were detected, mindfulness meditation appeared to most reliably lead to the following four changes in immune system function: reductions in the activity of the cellular transcription factor NF-κB, which is known to drive inflammation; reductions in circulating levels of CRP, which is a key marker of systemic inflammatory activity; increases in CD4+ T cell count (in HIV-diagnosed individuals); and increases in telomerase activity, which is thought to potentially reverse biological aging.
Considered together, these data point to promising areas of future investigation. However, the authors caution against exaggerating the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on immune system dynamics until these effects are further replicated and additional studies are performed.
Dr. Slavich is an associate professor and Society in Science – Branco Weiss Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, and a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, where he directs the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.
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