“I don’t think anybody would argue that fact that we know inflammation in the body, which comes from a lot of different sources, is the basis for a lot of chronic health problems, so by controlling that, we would expect to see increased life expectancy … but if we’re not changing those things and just taking ibuprofen, I don’t know if we’re really going to make any headway in that, I feel like there are probably a lot of factors that we could change without medicating with risk.”– Josie Znidarsic
The immune system is designed to protect the body from threats like stress, infection, injury, and toxic chemicals. One of its tools is the Inflammatory response. Its primary effect is to increase blood circulation around the infected area, dilating the blood vessels around the site of inflammation. It also produces gaps in the cell walls surrounding the infected area, allowing the larger immune cells, to pass. It also tends to increase body temperature to further fight infection. This response works quite well for short-term infections and injuries and as such is an important defense mechanism for the body. But when inflammation is protracted and becomes chronic, it can itself become a threat to health.
Chronic inflammation can produce autoimmune diseases such as colitis, Chron’s disease, arthritis, heart disease, increased cancer risk, lung disease, sleep disruption, gum disease, decreased bone health, psoriasis, and depression. Needless to say chronic inflammation can create major health problems. Indeed, the presence of chronic inflammation is associated with reduced longevity. So, it is important for health to control the inflammatory response, allowing it to do its job in fighting off infection but then reducing its activity when no external threat is apparent.
Contemplative practices appear to relax the physical systems of the body including the immune system, reducing inflammation. Mind-body techniques such as yoga, Tai Chi and meditation have been shown to adaptively reduce the inflammatory response (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/inflammatory-response/). In today’s Research News article “Mind-body therapies and control of inflammatory biology: A descriptive review”
Bower and colleagues review the published research literature on the effects of mind-body practices on the inflammatory response. They found mixed and inconclusive results for circulating and cellular markers of inflammation but consistent findings for gene expression inflammatory pathways. These studies consistently demonstrated that mind-body practices including tai chi, yoga, and meditation produced a decrease in inflammatory gene expressions and does so in diverse populations of practitioners.
Bower and colleagues suggest that mind-body practices alter gene expression through their well-documented effects on the neuroendocrine system. These techniques are known to reduce the activity of the activating portion of the peripheral nervous system, the sympathetic system, to reduce the release of stress hormones, particularly cortisol, and to lower perceived stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/). Mind-body practices are also known to improve emotion regulation (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/) and reduce depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/depression/), and anxiety (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2016/01/02/distress-produces-less-stress-with-mindfulness/). All of these effects occur via alterations of the nervous system by mind-body practices. The reduced activation and heightened relaxation then reduce the inflammatory response.
Regardless of the explanation, it is clear that mindfulness practices reduce potentially harmful inflammatory responses. So, mindfully control inflammation.
“The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment, and it can be practiced easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need.” – Melissa Rosenkranz
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies