WASHINGTON Meditation may slow the worsening of
AIDS in just a few weeks, perhaps by affecting the immune
system, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday.
If the findings are borne out in larger studies, it could
offer a cheap and pleasant way to help people battle the
incurable and often fatal condition, the team at the University
of California Los Angeles said.
They tested a stress-lowering program called mindfulness
meditation, defined as practicing an open and receptive
awareness of the present moment, avoiding thinking of the past
or worrying about the future.
The more often the volunteers meditated, the higher their
CD4 T-cell counts -- a standard measure of how well the immune
system is fighting the AIDS virus. The CD4 counts were measured
before and after the two-month program.
"This study provides the first indication that mindfulness
meditation stress-management training can have a direct impact
on slowing HIV disease progression," David Creswell, who led
the study, said in a statement.
His team tested 67 HIV-positive adults from the Los Angeles
area, 48 of whom did some or all of the meditation. Most were
likely to have highly stressful lives, Creswell said.
"The average participant in the study was male, African
American, homosexual, unemployed and not on ARV
(antiretroviral) medication," they wrote in the journal Brain,
Behavior, and Immunity.
The meditation classes included eight weekly two-hour
sessions, a day-long retreat and daily home practice. "The
people that were in this class really responded and just really
enjoyed the program," Creswell said.
"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," he added.
QUALITY OF LIFE
About 30 percent of the volunteers were taking HIV drug
cocktails, which can help suppress the virus.
"Even when we controlled for ARV use, we still saw these
effects. Whether you are on or off the drugs you are going to
see these benefits," Creswell said in a telephone interview.
Creswell said it was unclear how the stress-reducing
effects of meditation work. It may directly boost CD4 T-cell
levels, or suppress the virus, he said.
"We know that stress has direct effects on viral load," he
Creswell said he believes the program can help people
infected with a variety of viruses and from all walks of life.
HIV patients are especially highly stressed, he noted.
"These marginalized folks typically are experiencing the
highest stress levels," he said.
But middle-class workers also experience stress. "Most
people do report a lot of daily stress," Creswell said.
And for AIDS patients, HIV drug cocktails are known to have
a variety of side effects, from weight gain to nausea.
"One of the main side-effects of this particular treatment
was an increase in their quality of life," Creswell said.
(Editing by Eric Beech)