Mihan Kim / Visiting Scholar, Nursing College of Fairleigh Dickinson University and Professor of Nursing Department of Kyungil University, South Korea
Now that the world is in turmoil with the new coronavirus infection, I realize that interest in health is important now more than ever. I feel fearful when dealing with the ever-increasing number of confirmed infected persons and urgent national policy announcements. However, the facts tell us that not all patients who are infected with the new coronavirus will die. In fact, even in China, without specialized treatment, about 80% of coronavirus patients showed mild symptoms and were cured (Shin Dong-a, 2020). Most of the patients who are in critical condition are elderly with poor immunity or already have underlying conditions – such as heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease. This phenomenon is similarly found in other countries. So, those with weaker immune systems have more severe symptoms.
If you have good immunity, you can create antibodies that overcome disease. Healthy cells will replace diseased cells making it possible to overcome diseases like COVID-19. The definition of immune system is defined as the system in the body that makes substances that fight infections and diseases such as viruses. Since birth, we have an innate function that is our primary physicochemical defense against germs and viruses; such as skin, nose and oral mucous membranes, mucous membranes of the digestive system, gastric acid, bronchial mucous membranes and mucus of the respiratory system, cilia movement, and cough. Your immune system depends on your genetic background, underlying disease, and current health conditions. Viruses or bacteria that these primary defenses have not destroyed, start the immune response by finding them first with the phagocytic cells (macrophages) and telling the T cells (the lymphocytes from the thymus that respond to antigens). Some of the T cells function to help B cells (antibody-producing white blood cells) to make antibodies efficiently, and NK (Natural Killer) cells protect the body by killing diseased cells infected with viruses.
It is thanks to this natural healing system in our body that we can live healthy day after day. Unless you have a congenital problem, you can prevent infectious diseases by improving your immunity with a healthy lifestyle and management. It is well known that proper physical activity, stress management and relaxation, a balanced diet, vitamin or antioxidant intake, smoking cessation and drinking in moderation can help build immunity.
Recently, there have been many studies showing that meditation can help immunity. As the saying goes – illness comes from the mind – the healthcare industry has long recognized that psychological factors can influence your health. In particular, stress acts to weaken the immune system through several pathways. According to a study by Ayman Mukerji Househam et al published in the journal ADVANCES in 2017, when a person does not feel stress, healthy microorganisms multiply in the intestine and produce a substance (short-chain fatty acid) that reduces inflammation. The researchers systematically reviewed the research results on stress, meditation, and immunity for two years and they found that meditation reduces stress and suppresses chronic inflammatory conditions.
Rachael A. Heckenberg et al. (2019) reported in the journal Physiology & Behavior that employees who meditated online for 8 weeks increased immunoglobulin A (slgA), an immune substance, compared to those who did not. So, it can be seen that meditation not only reduces stress, but also prevents infection by the production of immune substances.
Older people are more vulnerable to the new coronavirus infection because they become more susceptible to infection due to their T cells and white blood cells’ inability to recognize and kill invading bacteria. According to a study by David S. Black and George M. Slavich (2016), published in ANNALS OF THE NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, meditation affects specific inflammatory markers to improve cellular immunity as well as slowing down the aging process. In other words, by meditating, you can slow down change in decreased immunity as you get older. Meditation reduces stress and stabilizes the mind thus improving your immunity.
As I meditated, colds, eye infections, and dermatitis that I used to get when I was overworked no longer occurred -needless to say that I look younger than my actual age – the scientific effect of meditation can be easily found as above. If you are looking for a way to fundamentally improve immunity for the health of your body and mind, I recommend finding the answer in meditation. Even today, I can get rid of the anxiety from the number of new coronavirus patients and the stress of an uncertain tomorrow from my mind.
1. Shin Dong-a, 2020, (https://m.post.naver.com/viewer/postView.nhn?volumeNo=27763675&memberNo=39094895&vType=VERTICAL).
2. Ayman Mukerji Househam, MS; Christine Tara Peterson, PhD; Paul J. Mills, PhD; Deepak Chopra, MD, The Effects of Stress and Meditation on the Immune System, Human Microbiota, and Epigenetics, ADVANCES, FALL 2017, VOL. 31, NO.
3. Rachael A. Heckenberg, Matthew W. Hale, Stephen Kent, Bradley J. Wright, An online mindfulness-based program is effective in improving affect, over-commitment, optimism and mucosal immunity. Physiology & Behavior Volume 1991 February 2019 Pages 20-274.
4. David S. Black and George M. Slavich, Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1373 (2016) 13–24