Can Meditation Benefit Your Immune System?

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Can Meditation Benefit Your Immune System?
Does your life ever feel relentless, and could you use an opportunity to press reboot? Then it’s time to try meditation. It’s no secret this ancient practice is a wonderful stress-reliever, but its benefits are far wider than simply leaving you calmer. In support of World Meditation Day, and to encourage you to try it for yourself, read on to discover some unexpected health benefits of meditation.

Meditation Boosts Immune Activity

A recent study examined the genetic activity in people’s blood before and after they‘d meditated. The results suggested meditation boosts the activity of hundreds of genes involved in regulating the activity of the immune system.

If your immune system is underperforming, it won’t adequately protect you from picking up bacterial and viral infections, but if it’s super-sensitive it will react to perfectly innocuous substances such as pollen, dust and food, causing allergies. It can even attack parts of your own body, leading to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

Many of the genes activated by meditation were involved in anti-viral effects, specifically interferon signalling. Interferons are a group of proteins with the job of inhibiting viruses and mobilising your immune system to fight disease. 97% of interferon-signalling genes were found to be activated in the people who’d meditated. Interestingly, the activity of these genes were found to be reduced in the presence of a viral infection such as COVID. Healthy interferon signalling is key to the successful defence against health conditions such as viral infections and even cancer.

Although the study involved an intense 10-day meditation practice, the results are exciting because they show immune activity can be enhanced by a lifestyle choice. What’s more, the changes in gene activity lasted for three months after meditation.

The effect of lifestyle on gene expression is an example of epigenetics, and knowing it’s possible to alter the way your genes behave means you’re far more in control of your destiny than was previously believed. 

Meditation Regulates Inflammation

A review of research on meditation and immunity found significant alterations in a substance called NFkb, involved in immune regulation and managing inflammation, and a reduction in the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP).

 

Other studies on meditation have found beneficial alterations in interleukins, proteins responsible for regulating both your immune system and inflammation. Self-reported effects of regular meditation include increased quality of sleep, improved memory, reduced blood pressure and better mood, while one study found regularly meditating for just twelve minutes per day increased the amount of the brain’s grey matter and boosted blood flow to the brain. Because it can actually change the structure of your brain, meditation is not simply ‘time out’, but it can change the way your brain responds to stressful events.

 

Meditation has even been found to increase the activity of an enzyme called telomerase. This repairs telomeres, the structures sitting on the end of your cells’ chromosomes, preventing them from becoming shorter when cells divide. Telomere length is correlated with biological ageing, so it appears meditation can keep your cells younger.

Meditation and You

No longer seen as mystical and new-age, meditation is now mainstream and the subject of wide-ranging scientific research.

Best of all, meditation is free, you don’t need any special skills to practice it, and it’s super simple to slot into your day because it doesn’t take up hours and hours of free time. In fact, if you’re new to meditating, it’s best to start off with a short period and work up slowly. As little as ten minutes spent meditating each day can have significant benefits.

So, what are you waiting for? Choose a quiet place where you feel comfortable, and sit in a relaxed position with an upright posture. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Take a few slow, deep breaths, feeling the flow of the air as it travels into and out of your lungs. When your attention wanders and your busy mind tries to butt in, don’t worry, become aware of your thoughts and gently guide your attention back to your breath. That’s it! You’re now meditating. It’s that simple.

You might find it hard at first to prevent your mind wandering, but don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you’re no good at meditating, or you aren’t benefitting from it.

Try a meditation app with a built-in reminder. If you meditate first thing in the morning, it’s harder to find an excuse not to do it. And once you establish the habit, you’ll miss it if you skip a day. When you’ve got the hang of it, meditation can be practiced anywhere and at any time.

If your immune system needs some support, I can help. A combination of lifestyle measures including meditation, but also appropriate nutrients, foods and herbs can be very effective in balancing your immunity. Contact Embracing Nutrition today to nurture your immune system back into balance.

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