How Meditation Boosts Your Immune System
Research Suggests Mindfulness Can Help Improve Immune Functioning
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve attention regulation, body awareness and emotional regulation, positively effecting a person’s overall well-being and physical health. Research also suggest mindfulness can help improve immune functioning — boosting your body’s natural defense system.
One of the most popular meditation techniques, mindfulness is the practice of paying close attention to the present moment without judgement. It’s the art of tuning in to your immediate experience and accepting whatever thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations arise moment-to-moment. Calming your mind and body, practicing mindfulness is an exceptional tool for stress reduction; and mindfulness-based therapy interventions have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
All of these factors enable your immune system to function more optimally and provide better protection for your health, especially when you consider chronic stress’ negative impact on immune health. Additionally, a growing body of research indicates that practicing mindfulness meditation helps boost your immune system for better defenses.
Mindfulness is way more than meditation; in fact, you don’t even have to sit still or clear your mind to reap the benefits. There are many ways to be mindful, and the data showing how beneficial they are to our health and immune system is mind-blowing. In fact, regular mindfulness meditation lowers inflammation markers like IL-6, NF-κB, and CRP while strengthening our cell-mediated immunity,” – explains IMMUSE™ educational expert Dr. Heather Moday, in her latest book, The Immunotype Breakthrough (2021).
How Mindfulness Meditation Boosts Your Immune System
A 2016 review published in a special edition of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences looked at 20 randomized control trials with more than 1,600 participants and found that mindfulness meditation appears to modulate a few select immune parameters. Specifically, the authors found that mindfulness meditation:
Reduces key inflammatory markers. The authors of the review found repeat evidence that mindfulness meditation decreases the activity of proinflammatory signaling pathway, NF-kB; and reduces circulating levels of C-reactive protein (CRP),which is a protein secreted by the liver in response to a variety of inflammatory cytokines.
While inflammation is a healthy, helpful immune response to infection or injury — too much inflammation can have the opposite effect. Systemic, chronic inflammation (a known precursor to many diseases) is often correlated with suppressed immune function.
Increases cell-mediated immune parameters. The review revealed that mindfulness meditation can increase the number of CD4+ T helper cells (in HIV-diagnosed individuals). A type of white blood cell, CD4+ T helper cells play a crucial role in coordinating the immune response, sending signals to activate key immune cells involved in adaptive immunity.
Increases telomerase activity. The authors of the review also found that mindfulness meditation increases telomerase (an important enzyme) activity that helps guard against cellular aging. As immune cells deteriorate, the immune system itself begins to slow down, weakening your immune response – making increased telomerase activity vital for reversing the adverse consequences of immune system aging (known as immunosenescence).
While the authors of the review caution against exaggerating the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on immune system parameters, calling for additional research, these findings are promising. Together with mindfulness meditation’s promise of reducing stress and anxiety, and its ability to improve sleep quality (which is also important for a strong immune system), we can begin connecting the dots between mindfulness and improved immune function.
A Mindfulness Meditation to Boost Your Immune System
Dr. Moday recommends starting with something as simple as a body scan, where you progressively relax each part of your body while lying on the floor or your bed.
- Begin by taking a few deeper breathes, exhaling through your mouth as you settle in.
- Then bring your attention to your feet. Inhale, and as you exhale, feel your heels release into the floor or bed.
- Next, notice the backs of your calves resting on the floor. Inhale, and as you exhale, allow your calves to become heavier into the floor or bed.
- As you’re ready, feel the backs of both of your thighs against the floor or bed. Inhale, and as you exhale, try to relax any tension you may feel in your thighs.
- Now the muscles of your butt. Notice if you’re holding any tension in the muscles of your butt and pelvic floor; and, on an exhale, relax your butt muscles and pelvic floor. This may take a few breathes.
- Continue to systematically work your way up your body, bringing your awareness to your low back, shoulders, arms, neck and head, and letting go of any perceived tension as you exhale.
- When you’re ready, you can open your eyes if they happen to be shut. Move with a greater sense of mindfulness as you slowly sit up and make note of how you feel.
For more pertinent immune health information and lifestyle hacks, check out Dr. Moday’s “Know Your Personal Immunotype” webinar by clicking the button below.
1Hölzel B K, et al. How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2011; 6(6): 537-559.
2Black D S and Slavich G M. Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2016; 1373(1): 13-24.
3Black D S and Slavich G M. Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2016; 1373(1): 13-24.
4Luckheeram R V, et al. CD4+T Cells: Differentiation and Functions. Clin Dev Immunol. 2012; 2012: 925135.
5de Punder K, et al. Stress and immunosenescence: The role of telomerase. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019; 101: 87-100.