Inflammation is something we are all familiar with. We know the precursors and how to measure it. Besides, we know that is needed for the body to heal and that if there are uncontrolled pro-inflammatory cytokines, we will react. Most important, in the presence of inflammation, there is an illness. But what can we do to fight inflammation? Can mindful meditation alleviate the signs and symptoms? Is anti-inflammatory medication the only way to treat this condition?
Inflammation is a necessary response to our body; it happens when immune cells produce pro-inflammatory proteins to communicate that there is something wrong in our body.
Measured inflammatory cytokines:
Â§ C-reactive protein
Even if these proteins are considered essential preservation, dysregulation and increased level are linked to many conditions, disease, poor healing, and mortality.
Mindfulness Meditation and Inflammation:
â€œMindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We feel more alive. We also gain immediate access to our own inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.â€ â€“ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness is defined as â€œthe awareness that emerges through paying attention
on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.â€ The combination of meditation mindfulness is a framework that systematically cultivates mindfulness that can be practiced daily.
Mindfulness is used to:
1.) notice when your attention has wandered
2.) gently invite your attention to return to the object of focus
3) repeat, repeat, repeat.
As this process is repeated, both in formal and informal practice, the pathways back to focused attention become stronger and stronger, as well as more familiar.
Many religions have this kind of approach; the most commonly known is yoga, accompanied by meditation. Currently, science has realized the potential benefits of mindfulness meditation and used it as an intervention. Today, the practice of mindfulness-based interventions is at an all-time high. Nevertheless, the results are equal to lifestyle modification therapies, psychotherapy, and medication. Still, the fact that patients can actively engage in something that brings them well-being and empowerment is appealing to those who engage it.
In 2016, Black and Slavich analyzed studies that involved mindfulness-based interventions and their effect on inflammatory markers.
IL-6: one study in female breast cancer patients found lower levels of IL-6 after 6 weeks of mindful awareness practices.
IL-8: In a comparative study made with dwelling older patients between Mindful based stress reduction (MBSR) and exercise. Those patients that went through an 8-week course of MBSR showed higher levels of IL-8 in nasal secretions.
IL-10: IL-10 levels increased in patients with ulcerative colitis who participated in a study comparing MBSR and mind-body medicine.
TNF-a: The TNF-a levels were measured in patients with ulcerative colitis, and the studies found a marked reduction in TNF-a and lipopolysaccharides. Furthermore, the results were found to be dependent on the dosage and time of MBSR therapy.
IFN: Several studies have found that the number of different types of IFNâ€™s increase after mindful awareness practice (MAP) and MBSR therapies. Both practices were applied to breast cancer patients.
C-reactive protein: Also known as CRP, was measured in patients who had ulcerative colitis. These patients were intervened with MBSR; the findings conclude a marked reduction in CRP levels after this therapy type.
Furthermore, the effects of mindful awareness practices have been studied in community-dwelling older patients diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In summary, the MAP therapy was integrated into the treatment because there are no discoveries in this condition’s care known to lead to Alzheimerâ€™s and dementia.
Also, there are previously reported improvements in psychiatric conditions and dementia linked to mindfulness.
Psychiatric disorders and MAP
Furthermore, the beneficial effects of mindfulness therapies in MCI have been studied in detail, finding a link between MAPs and neuroplasticity, eventually reducing the risk of developing cerebrovascular disease and neurodegeneration.
Eventually, it has been found that the beneficial effects are linked to the modulation of the inflammatory response. Therefore, Kheng and colleagues compared the MAP to a health education program that included the monitoring of diabetes and hypertension markers, medication, sleep, anxiety, healthy diet, and stress coping mechanisms. This study aimed to measure inflammatory markers like CRP, IL-1B, IL-6, and cortisol.
Finally, the study concluded that MAP improved inflammatory markers when compared to the health education program. Furthermore, some of the findings showed a decrease in CRP levels; this protein was lower in females than in males. Nevertheless, IL-6 and IL-1B levels improved in males after a 3-month period of MAP therapy.
In conclusion, mindfulness practices are an important tool to empower the patient and impact the inflammation pathway. The research corroborates the empirical findings already reported and implies that the intervention with this type of treatment should be part of the care guidelines. Patients with a high risk of developing chronic inflammation or chronic disease should ask their health care provider to integrate this into their treatment.-Ana Paola RodrÃguez Arciniega. Master in Clinical Nutrition.
Black, David S., and George M. Slavich. “Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1373.1 (2016): 13.
Ng, Ted Kheng Siang, et al. “Mindfulness improves inflammatory biomarker levels in older adults with mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial.” Translational psychiatry 10.1 (2020): 1-14.
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