Dr. Slavich Publishes New Meta-analysis on Psychotherapy & Immune System Function in JAMA Psychiatry

A new analysis of 56 studies shows psychotherapy in general, and especially CBT, is an effective non-drug treatment for boosting the immune system

A new review of 56 randomized clinical trials finds that psychological and behavioral therapies may be effective non-drug treatments for reducing disease-causing inflammation in the body.

The results of the analysis, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found that cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, was superior to other psychotherapies at boosting the immune system.

The senior author of the new study is Dr. George Slavich, director of the UCLA Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research. Along with two of his colleagues at UC Davis and San Diego State University, the team looked at whether interventions typically used for treating mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, might also boost biological processes involved in physical health. They further analyzed the duration and types of psychotherapy received, including group versus non-group therapy. Finally, they examined how the treatments affected different markers of inflammation and other immune system processes in the body.

“People automatically go to medication first to reduce chronic inflammation, but medications can be expensive and sometimes have adverse side effects,” Slavich said. “In this review, we wanted to know whether psychotherapies can also affect the immune system and, if so, which ones have the most beneficial effects over the long term.”

The researchers analyzed randomized clinical trials that investigated the effects of several different types of interventions, including CBT, CBT plus medication, grief and bereavement support, a combination of two or more psychotherapies, and psychoeducation, among others.

“This seems to be a case of mind over matter,” Slavich said. “Psychotherapies like CBT can change how we think about ourselves and the world, and changing these perceptions can in turn affect our biology. The results of this study take this idea one step further and suggest that psychotherapy may be an effective and relatively affordable strategy for reducing individuals’ risk for chronic diseases that involve inflammation.”

Through their analyses, the researchers sought to better understand how the body reacts to non-drug treatments for chronic inflammation, which increases the risk of developing several deadly diseases and can lead to premature death.

They looked at several different immune outcomes. Of those outcomes, pro-inflammatory cytokines were most strongly affected by psychotherapy in general and CBT in particular. Pro-inflammatory cytokines are notable because they help the immune system heal physical wounds and battle infections. If these proteins remain persistently elevated, though, they can lead to chronic inflammation, which increases the risk of physical illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as mental health problems, including anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, self-harm and suicide.

“There are many people who would prefer to use non-drug interventions for improving their immune system function,” Slavich said. “In some cases, they can’t take certain medications because of medical reasons, and in other instances the medications they need are too expensive. And then there are people who simply prefer a more holistic approach to improving their health.”

 Slavich said that these findings provide strong evidence that psychotherapy may be helpful in this regard.

“Out of all of the interventions we examined, CBT was the most effective for reducing inflammation, followed by multiple or combined interventions,” Slavich said. “Moreover, we found that the benefits of CBT on the immune system last for at least six months following treatment. Therefore, if you’re looking for a well-tested, non-drug intervention for improving immune-related health, CBT is probably your best choice.”

Download article: Psychosocial Interventions and Immune System Function: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials

Dr. Slavich is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and Director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.


Dr. Slavich and 19 Leading Scientists Describe Health-Damaging Effects of Inflammation in New Nature Medicine Article

Minimizing chronic inflammation may reduce illness and save lives:
A group of scientists is recommending early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of inflammation to reduce the worldwide burden of chronic diseases

Scientists from 22 institutions, including UCLA, are recommending early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of severe chronic inflammation to reduce the risk of chronic disease and death worldwide.

The group of international experts, which also includes scientists from the National Institutes of Health, Stanford University, Harvard Medical School, Columbia University Medical Center and University College London, point to inflammation-related diseases as the cause of 50 percent of all deaths worldwide.

Inflammation is a naturally occurring response by the body’s immune system that helps fight illness and infection. When inflammation becomes chronic, however, it increases the risk of developing potentially deadly diseases. 

In a perspective article, published in the journal Nature Medicine, the authors describe how persistent and severe inflammation in the body may lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders.

They suggest that prioritizing research to better diagnose and treat severe chronic inflammation may not only extend life, but also help reduce worldwide chronic disease burden and improve human health.

Senior author George Slavich, director of the UCLA Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research, said it is important to make people aware of the risk factors for chronic inflammation, which include obesity, physical inactivity, social isolation, chronic stress and inadequate or poor sleep. 

“Chronic inflammation is influenced by many social, environmental and lifestyle factors,” said Slavich, who is also a research scientist at the Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA. “If we make people aware of these risk factors, our hope is that individuals will reduce the factors that apply to them. And what better time to make such a change than in the New Year.”

Slavich said research should focus on identifying new biomarkers or substances in the body that will enable doctors to screen for and better diagnose and treat severe chronic inflammation. Currently, just a few biomarkers are known to indicate inflammation such as elevated levels of C-reactive protein, which is a protein found in blood plasma. Slavich said there are potentially hundreds of other substances in the body’s immune system that may indicate chronic inflammation, but they have yet to be identified.

“It’s also important to recognize that inflammation is a contributor not just to physical health problems, but also mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, self-harm and suicide,” Slavich said. “Therefore, this is a substantial public health crisis that we’re talking about. By viewing inflammation as a common cause of both physical and mental health problems, our hope is that we may be able to greatly improve human health and even extend life.”

Download article: Chronic Inflammation in the Etiology of Disease Across the Lifespan

Dr. Slavich is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and Director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.


Dr. Slavich Publishes New Article on Precision Health in Nature Medicine

Lab Director, Dr. George Slavich, has published a new article in the leading journal, Nature Medicine, in which he and his collaborators from Stanford University employed a big data, precision medicine approach to study human health and disease. The result yielded more than 67 new, clinically actionable health discoveries involving patients’ risk for metabolic, cardiovascular and oncologic diseases.

Precision health relies on the ability to assess disease risk at an individual level, detect early preclinical conditions and initiate preventive strategies. Recent technological advances in omics and wearable monitoring enable deep molecular and physiological profiling and may provide important tools for precision health.

Dr. Slavich and colleagues explored the ability of deep longitudinal profiling to make health-related discoveries, identify clinically relevant molecular pathways and affect behavior in a prospective longitudinal cohort of 109 adults. The cohort underwent integrative personalized omics profiling from samples collected quarterly for up to 8 years using clinical measures and emerging technologies including genome, immunome, transcriptome, proteome, metabolome, microbiome and wearable monitoring.

Dr. Slavich and colleagues in turn discovered more than 67 clinically actionable health discoveries and identified multiple molecular pathways associated with metabolic, cardiovascular and oncologic pathophysiology. They also developed prediction models for insulin resistance by using omics measurements, illustrating their potential to replace burdensome tests.

Finally, study participation led the majority of participants to implement diet and exercise changes that helped improve their physical and mental health. Altogether, Dr. Slavich and colleagues concluded that deep longitudinal profiling can lead to actionable health discoveries and provide relevant information for precision health.

Download article: A Longitudinal Big Data Approach for Precision Health

Related Press

Dr. Slavich is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, Associate Director of the NIA Stress Measurement Network, and Director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.


Dr. Slavich Named Co-chair of National Task Force on Stress Measurement in Primary Care

Dr. Slavich has been named Co-chair of a national task force focused on assessing stress in primary care — the first such task force of its kind. Normative and especially “toxic” life stress exposure are a major contributing factor to numerous primary health care visits nationwide, but it is rarely assessed by primary care physicians. The goal of the task force is to help physicians better understand the importance of assessing life stress in children and adults and to provide physicians with affordable, high-quality assessment tools that they can use for this purpose.

Dr. Slavich is an expert in the conceptualization and assessment of life stress and has spent the past eleven years developing the first online system for assessing lifetime stress exposure, called the Stress and Adversity Inventory (STRAIN). The STRAIN is an NIMH/RDoC-recommended instrument for assessing life stress and is the only system that focuses on the systematic assessment of lifetime stress exposure. Dr. Slavich has been an expert advisor on the conceptualization and assessment of life stress for the NCI, NIA, NIMH, and NIH Science of Behavior Change Common Fund Program, and currently serves as Associate Director of the NIA Stress Measurement Network.

Dr. Slavich is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, Associate Director of the NIA Stress Measurement Network, and Director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.


Dr. Slavich to Direct New International Interdisciplinary Grant Program

Lab director, Dr. George Slavich, Ph.D., has been chosen to direct an exciting new international, interdisciplinary grant program run by the Branco Weiss Fellowship, which provides early career scientists with a generous personal endowment to work anywhere in the world, on any topic of their choosing, for up to five years. The new grant program that Dr. Slavich will oversee will extend Branco Weiss’ original vision for the Fellowship by providing small teams of exceptional scientists with up to 20,000 CHF (per project) to pursue a ground-breaking interdisciplinary project that would not be possible without the unique expertise of each team member involved or the unparalleled freedom afforded by the Branco Weiss Fellowship. The new grant program has been called the Branco Weiss Fellowship Collaborative Grants Program.

The Branco Weiss Fellowship spans the arts and humanities, and all major scientific disciplines — from art to history, and cell biology to epidemiology. The Collaborative Grants Program will thus promote the formation of exciting new projects that seek to forge links between different disciplines that can be combined to yield new scientific insights and groundbreaking discoveries. Dr. Slavich accepted his new role as director of the Program at the recent annual meeting of the Branco Weiss Fellowship, which takes place each year in November in Zürich, Switzerland.

Dr. Slavich was a Branco Weiss Fellow from 2008-2013, and will begin his directorship of the Collaborative Grants Program immediately.


Dr. Slavich is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, Associate Director of the NIA Stress Measurement Network, and Director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Dr. Slavich Receives 2017 Award for Outstanding Contributions to Health Psychology

Lab director, Dr. George Slavich, Ph.D., has been announced as the 2017 recipient of the highly coveted Early Career Professional Award for Outstanding Contributions to Health Psychology. The award is given by the Society for Health Psychology, and prior recipients have included many renowned health psychologists, such as Robert Kaplan, Kelly Brownell, Margaret Chesney, Karen Matthews, Andrew Baum, Sheldon Cohen, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Susan Lutgendorf, Willem Kop, Elissa Epel, and Julienne Bower, among others. Dr. Slavich will be presented with an award plaque and cash prize at the 2017 convention of the American Psychological Association in Washington, DC.

Dr. Slavich was nominated for the award by Dr. Michael Irwin, M.D., the Cousins Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Distinguished Professor of Psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Sciences, Director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center.

Award Announcement:

It is a pleasure to announce Dr. George Slavich as the 2017 recipient of Early Career Professional Award for Outstanding Contributions to Health Psychology.

George is an accomplished early career health psychologist whose outstanding publication record is punctuated by several highly impactful articles that integrate across social, neural, immunologic, genetic, and genomic levels of analysis to elucidate psychological and biological mechanisms underlying human health.

Most notable, George is generating new knowledge, ideas, and theories that are helping define new frontiers in health psychology, as evidenced for example in his and Dr. Irwin’s comprehensive review in Psychological Bulletin, published in 2014. This vast review, already cited over 350 times, describes the first fully integrated, multi-level theory of depression, called Social Signal Transduction Theory of Depression. 

Additionally, George’s original work has begun to identify the full set of psychological and biological mechanisms linking social stress and disease, which cut across all major levels of analysis in a highly integrated and sophisticated manner. For example, George has discovered what brain regions underlie inflammatory responses to social stress, as published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America. He has further shown that targeted rejection life events reach deep inside the body to activate intracellular signaling molecules that regulate systemic inflammation.

Moreover, it is important to note that George has pioneered new methodologies for the assessment of adverse life experiences. Most recently, he created the first online system for assessing lifetime stress exposure. This system, called the Stress and Adversity Inventory (STRAIN), systematically asks people about different types of stressors that they may have experienced since childhood. The STRAIN is now extensively utilized in several NIH-funded projects, as recognized by his leadership as Associate Director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA)-Supported Stress Measurement Network.

Not surprising given the strengths of George’s innovative and impactful scholarship, he has received several competitive awards from the National Institutes of Health, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, and several other private foundations. He has also received numerous other early career research awards, including the Neal E. Miller New Investigator Award from the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research.

George is also a gifted teacher. For example, he has been awarded the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences Outstanding Research Mentor Award, Outstanding Undergraduate Student Teaching Award, and Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award, which speak to his generatively in training new investigators.

In closing, George has enormous upside potential, and we anticipate that he will continue his work and emerge as a leading scientist in health psychology in the years to come.FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Dr. Slavich Organizes Unique Scientific Meeting on Human Health

Lab director, Dr. George Slavich, recently organized a unique one-day scientific meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, titled Integrated Multi-Level Approaches to Psychosocial Processes & Health, which featured several renowned speakers from Stanford University, Harvard University, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the National Institutes of Health. An overview of the meeting and the speaker biosketches are below!



The development of new tools for measuring the activity of neural and peripheral systems in the human body is beginning to revolutionize research on psychosocial processes and health. Whereas studies on social, psychological, and affective processes were once limited to one or two levels of analysis, research is now beginning to integrate across multiple levels to elucidate the full set of neural, physiologic, immunologic, molecular, genetic, and genomic mechanisms linking social-environmental experiences with human health and behavior. These studies have the ability to inform the development of new theories on important topics, but numerous challenges also exist.

This meeting will explore these opportunities and challenges by bringing together some of the brightest minds in integrated, multi-level research today. The meeting will include invited talks on cutting-edge approaches to studying mental health, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and aging, given by several renowned investigators including Drs. George Church (Harvard University/MIT), Ian Gotlib (Stanford University), Anil Sood (MD Anderson Cancer Center), and Laura Kubzansky (Harvard University). A pioneer in integrated, multi-level research, Dr. Michael Snyder (Stanford University), will describe the relevance of this work for “precision health,” and NIH program officers including Janine Simmons (NIMH), Paige Green (NCI), and Lisa Onken (NIA) will discuss current and future NIH funding priorities on these topics. Finally, a selection of short flash talks will be presented by faculty and students from across the country.

Invited Speakers

Ian Gotlib, PhD
Stanford University
Multi-level approaches to Mental Health 

Dr. Ian Gotlib is a world-renowned expert on psychological and neurobiological mechanisms underlying risk for depression and anxiety in adolescence and adulthood. Originally from Ontario, Canada, he received his bachelor’s degree (with honors) in psychology from the University of Western Ontario and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Waterloo. He came to Stanford in 1996, where he is presently David Starr Jordan Professor, Chair of the Department of Psychology, and Director of the Stanford Neurodevelopment, Affect, and Psychopathology Laboratory. He has published more than 500 articles, chapters, and books, the most recent of which have introduced us to fascinating new concepts like “intergenerational neuroimaging” while spanning multiple levels of analysis, including social-psychological, neural, and molecular processes. This work has had an enormous impact and helped researchers better understand why certain individuals are at greater risk for psychopathology, and how we can in turn use this information to reduce the prevalence of disorders like depression, which is presently the leading cause of disease burden worldwide.

Laura Kubzansky, PhD
Harvard University
Multi-level approaches to Cardiovascular Disease

Dr. Laura Kubzansky is most well-known for pioneering new ways of understanding how psychosocial, biological, and environmental processes interact to shape health in a variety of contexts, including human aging, health disparities, stress resilience, the effects of led and air pollution exposure on health, and – perhaps most prominently – risk for cardiovascular disease. Dr. Kubzansky received her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan, and completed post-doctoral work in social epidemiology and her M.P.H. at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She is presently the Lee Kum Kee Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Society and Health Laboratory at Harvard. Most recently, she was named Co-Director of the JPB Environmental Health Fellowship Program at Harvard and Co-Director of the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, which was recently seeded with a generous $21 million endowment from Lee Kum Kee, who invented the oyster sauce that thousands of families have used over the years. Dr. Kubzansky published more than 30 articles in 2016 alone, and what’s most impressive is that these articles have appeared in a wide variety of outlets – from Nature Genetics, to Circulation, to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Anil Sood, MD
MD Anderson Cancer Center
Multi-level approaches to Cancer

Dr. Anil Sood is a renowned expert in the effects that neuroendocrine stress hormones have on ovarian cancer growth and progression, and in the development of novel anti-vascular therapeutic approaches for treating ovarian cancer, which is presently the most deadly of all female reproductive system cancers. Dr. Sood received his bachelor’s degree at Davidson College and his MD at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He subsequently completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Florida and a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at the University of Iowa. Currently, Dr. Sood is Professor and Vice Chair for Translational Research in the Departments of Gynecologic Oncology & Reproductive Medicine at the world-renowned University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He is also Director of the Blanton-Davis Ovarian Cancer Research Program and Co-Director of the Center for RNA Interference and Non-Coding RNA. His laboratory was among the first to discover that stress hormones can directly influence ovarian cancer cells via beta-adrenergic receptor signaling, which has implications for understanding angiogenesis, tumor growth, and metastasis. Of his more than 440 publications listed in PubMed, 80 are from 2016 or 2017 alone.

Michael Snyder, PhD
Stanford University
Multi-level Integration & Precision Health 

Dr. Michael Snyder developed many of the functional genomic and proteomic approaches being used today. Originally from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Dr. Snyder received his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Biology at the University of Rochester, and his Ph.D. in Biology from Cal Tech. He was recruited from Yale to Stanford in 2009, where he is presently Stanford Ascherman Professor, Chair of the Department of Genetics, and Director of the Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine. His laboratory was the first to perform a large-scale functional genomics project in any organism, which launched the now-burgeoning field of functional genomics. His lab was also the first to set up protein and proteome microarrays for the large-scale characterization of protein function and antibody reactivity. In addition to this basic research, Dr. Snyder has pioneered the integration of different cutting-edge “omics” technologies and, in this context, he recently performed the first longitudinal “personal omics profiling study,” which produced nearly 2 billion measurements from 60 individuals who agreed to wear up to 8 different biosensors daily. Moreover, as the ultimate “citizen scientist,” Dr. Snyder participated in the study and, in doing so, watched as his own multi-level profiling approach begin to signal the onset of type-2 diabetes in his body… in real time. It was the first eyewitness account of the birth of a disease that affects millions.

George Church, PhD
Harvard University/MIT
Multi-level approaches to Aging

Dr. George Church is one of the most influential scientists living today. He grew up in Clearwater, Florida, and, in two years, completed bachelor’s degrees in zoology and chemistry at Duke University. He aimed to stay at Duke afterward for his graduate studies, but was spending up to 100 hours per week in the lab; as a result, he was withdrawn from the degree program in January 1976 and told, “[We] hope that whatever problems contributed to your lack of success at Duke will not keep you from a successful pursuit of a productive career.” Luckily for Dr. Church, he landed softly at Harvard University in 1977, where he completed a Ph.D. biochemistry and molecular biology. From there, Dr. Church went on to become the first person to directly sequence a genome. He co-initiated both the Human Genome Project in 1984 and President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative in 2011. Nearly all next-generation genome sequencing methods and companies are based on his groundbreaking work in human genetics and genomics. He has received numerous prestigious awards for this research and, just this month, was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people. He is presently the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Director of the NIH Center of Excellence in Genomic Science, and Director of the Personal Genome Project.

Paige Green, PhD
National Cancer Institute
NIH Research Priorities & Funding Opportunities

Dr. Paige Green is Chief of the Basic Biobehavioral & Psychological Sciences Branch in the Behavioral Research Program in the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute. Among her many honors and awards, Dr. Green received the 2015 NCI Knowledge Management Program Exceptional Mentor Award and the 2015 NIH Director’s Award for exemplary performance while demonstrating significant leadership, skill, and ability in serving as a mentor.

Lisa Onken, PhD
National Institute on Aging
NIH Research Priorities & Funding Opportunities

Dr. Lisa Onken serves as Director of the Behavior Change & Intervention Program in the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at the National Institute on Aging. Prior to joining NIA, she was Chief of the Behavioral and Integrative Treatment Branch at NIDA, where she helped develop the NIH Stage Model, which focuses on the pipeline connecting translational basic research to clinical research. She also played a pivotal role in defining the goals and objectives of the NIH Science of Behavior Change Common Fund Program.

Janine Simmons, MD, PhD
National Institute of Mental Health
NIH Research Priorities & Funding Opportunities

Dr. Janine Simmons is a physician who is board-certified in Psychiatry and Neurology. She is presently Chief of the Affect, Social Behavior and Social Cognition Program in the Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science at the National Institute of Mental Health. Among her various honors and roles, she was selected as one of only 12 people to serve on the NIH work group that developed the NIMH RDoC initiative, which has been a primary driving force behind multi-level research on mental health and human behavior.FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Dr. Slavich Featured in New Documentary on Depression and the Immune System

The World Health Organization (WHO) has named depression a leading cause of disease burden worldwide. This is partly because of the cognitive and affective symptoms of depression that can severely impair functioning, such as fatigue and suicidal thoughts. However, depression is also associated with increased risk for a variety of serious medical conditions, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Recently, lab director Dr. George Slavich and colleagues have pioneered new ways of understanding why depression is associated with physical health problems by focusing on the immune system. Specifically, they have examined how stress causes increases in inflammation and how inflammation in turn increases risk for poor health.

This body of work was recently the focus of a new one-hour documentary on Arte TV, called “New Hope for Depression.” Enjoy it here!

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.FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

A New Vaccine for Preventing Stress? Slavich Discusses the Topic with NPR

Stress increases a person’s risk for a variety of mental and physical health problems that cause substantial morbidity and mortality, including depression, heart disease, certain cancers, and neurodegenerative disorders. Interventions aimed at reducing the effects of stress on health typically focus on individuals who already have stress-related health problems. But, what if there was a vaccine that could prevent such problems from occurring in the first place? Would you take it?

As it turns out, such a solution may be in our future. Researchers have begun developing so called “stress vaccines” that could one day increase a person’s resilience to stress and possibly prevent stress-related disorders like depression and PTSD from ever taking hold. But, do such vaccines actually work? And, if so, what would be the potential pros and cons of altering people’s reactions to stress?

To explore the cutting-edge topic in stress prevention and research, lab director, Dr. George Slavich, recently spoke with AirTalk host, Larry Mantle, on NPR (Listen Here).

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.


New Review Suggests Meditation May Influence Immune System Activity

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. Black is an assistant professor of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where he directs the BioMind Lab.

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.


pdfMindfulness Meditation and the Immune System: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials

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