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Meditation slows HIV

28th July 2008

A research team in the United States has found that a stress-relieving practice known as "mindfulness meditation" can slow the progression of AIDS in HIV positive people in just a few weeks.

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The meditation, which involves practising an open and receptive awareness of the present moment, avoiding thinking of the past or worrying about the future, could work by boosting the immune systems of patients.

A team at the University of California Los Angeles said the findings could show the way to a cheap and pleasant way to help people battle HIV, which is incurable and often fatal once it progresses to full-blown AIDS.

Participants in the study were 67 HIV-positive residents of Los Angeles, many of whom lived highly stressful lives, according to study leader David Creswell. Stress is known to have a direct effect on viral load in HIV patients.

The team found that the more often the volunteers meditated, the higher their CD4 T-cell counts were. CD4 T-cell counts are a standard measure of how well the immune system is fighting HIV.

The CD4 counts were measured in the meditation group and the control group before and after the two-month meditation programme. Of the 67, 48 people did all or part of the meditation programme.

Writing in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, the researchers said the typical participants were black, gay men who were not on antiretroviral treatment at the time of the study. About 30% of volunteers were taking HIV drug cocktails.

But the results were marked even when controlled for the use of antiretroviral therapies, said Creswell. But he said it was unclear exactly how the meditation worked.

He speculated that it may directly boost CD4 T-cell levels, or suppress the virus in some way.

The team concluded that mindfulness meditation stress-management training can have a direct impact on slowing the progression of HIV. It also boosted quality of life for people living with HIV.

They said if the findings were replicated in larger samples, it could pave the way for a powerful, and low-cost, complementary therapy for HIV.

 

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