Meditation improves immune-system function, study finds

For the first time, meditation has been shown to produce lasting beneficial changes in immune-system function as well as brain electrical activity, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study released Monday.

The study, which looked at a group of 25 employees of a Madison-area company who underwent an eight-week meditation training program, is the latest in a growing body of research into the mind-body connection.

As a part of the study at the end of the eight weeks, flu shots were given to the employees and a group of 16 other employees who did not receive meditation training.

When researchers checked for antibodies to the vaccine at one month and two months later, the meditators had significantly higher levels than the nonmeditators.

On average, the meditators had about a 5 percent increase in antibodies, but some had increases of up to 25 percent, Davidson said.

More importantly, the level of antibodies increased directly in relation to the level of increased brain-wave activity, he said.

To measure brain activity, electroencephalograms were done. Researchers found about 50 percent more electrical activity in the left frontal regions of the brains of the meditators. Other research has showed that part of the brain is associated with positive emotions and anxiety reduction.

The study’s findings will be published in the upcoming issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

While many researchers have presumed that the benefits of meditation endure, there has been a shortage of such research, said Andrew Newberg, an assistant professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania who has done several neuroimaging studies involving meditation and prayer.

“The fact they can show long-term or chronic changes… is not completely surprising, but it’s important they were able to show that,” he said. “These kinds of studies, when done by high-quality researchers, are really what has been lacking in the field of alternative medicine.”

The meditation training for the study was done by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a noted meditation author who developed a stress-reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

Judith Stevens, one of the test subjects, said her training has helped her think more clearly and react less emotionally to stressful situations.

“The road rage went down,” she said, laughing.

She said she now practices meditation for about 10 to 20 minutes, five times a week.

A weakness of the study is the relatively small number of participants and use of EEG, which is considered a relatively crude measurement of brain function. Read more

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