Boost Your Immune Function and Digestion with Mindfulness - dummies

Boost Your Immune Function and Digestion with Mindfulness

By Shamash Alidina, Joelle Jane Marshall

Mindfulness is being increasingly used to treat a range of clinical conditions. In some cases, such as chronic pain and psoriasis, good evidence for its success has been reported. In other areas, the research is at very early stages. Here’s a list of some physical conditions for which mindfulness is being researched as a treatment:

  • Cancer

  • Chronic pain

  • Diabetes

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Heart disease

  • Hepatitis/HIV

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • Immune system-related illnesses

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

  • Recovering from surgery

  • Psoriasis

  • Tinnitus

If you suffer from one of the above conditions, ask your doctor whether mindfulness may be a helpful treatment — together with whatever other treatment you’re already receiving of course.

One reason why mindfulness is an effective treatment for physical conditions is because it boosts your immune system and allows your digestion to work more effectively.

Here’s how. When you’re stressed, a part of your automatic bodily function turns on the stress response. The physical changes that take place are hard-wired into your nervous system, and in fact into the nervous system of most other animals too.

It’s the fight-or-flight mechanism and creates a range of changes in your body designed to prepare you physically to avoid danger by fighting, freezing or running away. The changes also prepare you mentally for danger by heightening your senses and causing you to see any small disturbances as possible threats.

But the main physical changes that take place in the stress response are unhelpful if you’re chronically stressed:

  • Heart rate and blood pressure rise.

  • Glucose (sugar) gets released into your bloodstream.

  • Muscle tension increases.

  • Digestion and your immune system almost shut down.

Mindfulness reduces the stress response. When faced with a stressful situation, you don’t feel quite so stressed and are able to let go of unhelpful thoughts more easily because you’re aware of your negative thoughts and can step back from them. You see the big picture and so are less likely to react automatically to situations.

Mindfulness also seems to reduce activity in the part of the brain responsible for turning on the stress response, so your background level of stress in everyday life goes down too.

With greater awareness and less stress, your digestion works better, as does your immune system. If you’re suffering from a stress-related illness, consider using mindfulness alongside other treatment. And even if your disease isn’t stress-related, the chances are that mindfulness can help you to get better, quicker.