Meditation and the Immune System
Episode #4 of the course Understanding meditation and the science behind it by Colin Pal
Our immune system is an important physiological mechanism that directly impacts our physical wellness. It’s our defense system that protects our body from harmful foreign pathogens like viruses and bacteria.
Effects of Mindfulness on Our Immune System
There has been recent research that explores the effects of mindfulness and meditation on our immune system. Researchers have found that mindfulness meditation:
• increases telomerase activity, which helps promote the stability of chromosomes and prevent their deterioration, which often leads to cancer and premature aging
• significantly reduces markers of inflammation, where higher levels would normally correlate with a poor immune functioning and an increase in chances of disease
• increases the number of CD-4 cells, which are the immune system’s helper cells that send signals to other cells, telling them to destroy infections, therefore increasing cell-mediated immunity
Of course, these findings are new and will need to be replicated further with more rigorous research and methodology. But this is great and promising news, as it’s the beginning of further exploration in all the ways mindfulness and meditation can boost our immune system and prevent disease.
There are also studies where they have found that meditation can alter our body’s immune function by increasing levels of antibodies to fight off viruses, bacteria, and other foreign substances. In this study, people received the flu vaccine and were either part of a group going through an eight-week mindfulness training program or a control group without the training program. After eight weeks, the students of the program showed higher levels of antibodies in their system.
How Does Mindfulness Increase Immunity?
We understand that meditation has the potential of increasing the function of our immune system, but the question is, “How?” While it is all still undergoing research, what we do know is that meditation plays an big role in dealing with stress and impacts our brain’s functions.
This influences positively the way we think and feel, which then impacts the chemical signals that our brain sends to our body and immune system. When we’re stressed or stuck in negative thoughts and feelings, this puts our body into survival mode and negatively impacts our immune system, making us more prone to illness and disease. By training our ability to lower stress and regulate emotions, we’re allowing our body to put its energy into the immune system to increase our defenses.
Meditation increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, the right anterior insula, and right hippocampus—all the areas of the brain that act as our immune system’s command center. So through meditation, we’re increasing the communication between our brain and immune system, making its functioning more effective.
“Meditation each day keeps the doctor away.” —Tweet this.
Challenge of the Day
My challenge for you today is to begin your practice of meditation (if you haven’t already). Start small, even for just one minute if you’re new. It’s easy and can be done absolutely anywhere: at your desk, while waiting for a friend, sitting on the train, or even on the toilet. You just have to sit and observe your thoughts, feelings, and experiences—intentionally and consciously. You could probably do it right now! Then slowly build up and add a minute each day.
Tomorrow, you’ll learn how meditation helps you train calm.
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