Researchers at the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) report that the practice of mindfulness meditation can halt the decline of CD4-T cells in HIV-positive patients. CD4-T cells are the “brains” of the immune system, but they are also the cells that are attacked by HIV, which slowly eats away at the CD4-T cells and weakens the immune system. Scientists have known for some time that stress also accelerates CD4-T cell decline, making the combination of stress and HIV a potentially deadly combination.
“This study provides the first indication that mindfulness meditation stress-management training can have a direct impact on slowing HIV disease progression,” said UCLA’s David Creswell. “The mindfulness program is a group-based and low-cost treatment, and if this initial finding is replicated in larger samples, it’s possible that such training can be used as a powerful complementary treatment for HIV disease, alongside medications.”
The UCLA study, reported in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, compared an eight-week mindfulness-based stress-reduction (MBSR) meditation program to a one-day MBSR control seminar, using a stressed and ethnically diverse sample of HIV-positive adults. Impressively, the participants in the eight-week group showed no loss of CD4-T cells, indicating that mindfulness meditation training can buffer declines. In contrast, the control group showed significant declines in CD4-T cells.
Intriguingly, Creswell also noted that researchers found a “dose-response” relationship between MBSR class attendance and CD4-T cells, meaning, said Creswell, “the more mindfulness meditation classes people attended, the higher the [number of] CD4-T cells at the study’s conclusion.”
In order to better understand the benefits of mindfulness meditation, Creswell and his colleagues are now examining the underlying pathways through which meditation reduces stress, using brain imaging, genetics and immune system measurements. “Given the stress-reduction benefits of mindfulness meditation training, these findings indicate there can be health protective effects not just in people with HIV but in folks who suffer from daily stress,” Creswell said.