Authors: Black, D.S. and Slavich, G.M
Title: Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.1
Summary: The role of inflammation in health and wellbeing is becoming increasingly important in our understanding of illness and perhaps more important to establish greater resilience to ill health. For example, we now know that an unhealthy gut can lead to inflammation in many different organs. It’s not that inflammation should be seen as the problem per se; it is a function of the immune system, our body’s essential response to harmful stimuli. However, too much or too little inflammation can lead to major and minor health problems. Therefore if meditation can regulate excessive inflammation and its causes before they can damage the body, it will improve health and wellbeing.
Mindfulness meditation and immune system biomarkers. This systematic review of 20 randomized controlled trials, comprising more than 1600 participants, revealed replicated, yet tentative, evidence that mindfulness mediation is associated with changes in select immune system processes involved in inflammation, immunity, and biological aging.1
This scientific review was a meta-study; the authors looked across several different published papers to establish the overall state of research in this field. When analyzed together, these individual papers indicated that: ‘mindfulness meditation modulates some select immune parameters in a manner that suggests a more salutogenic immune profile.’ Simply that practising mindfulness can reduce pro-inflammatory reactions and an increase in the biological mechanisms linked to cell ageing. The study’s authors stress that despite the scope of the paper, the reviewed literature contained some methodological limitations, so the findings of individual studies and the meta-review should be treated with caution.
What does this study mean for meditation and mindfulness practitioners?
Since the development of medicalised meditation (the relocation of belief based practices into medico-scientific domains) in 1970, the science of meditation has had an increasing tendency to pragmatism rather than empiricism. This means that the effects of meditation and not underlying causal mechanisms tend to be the object of most research projects. This paper represents a movement towards a more rigorous positivist approach, but no definite conclusions were established. My personal view is that the evidence supports much of what we already know about regular meditation practices; it can improve overall health and wellbeing. This paper was published in 2016 but it remains one of the few reviews of the relationship between mindfulness and the immune system.
- Black, D.S. and Slavich, G.M., 2016. Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1).