Our immune system is responsible for defending us against outside threats like viruses and bacteria and internal threats like cancer. It is responsible for overall health and wellness by promoting good oral health, gut symbiosis, and protecting us from various diseases.
Mind and body therapies, like Taiji, Qigong, and yoga, have been shown to reduce inflammation. C-reactive protein levels and interleukin-6 (inflammatory markers), were reduced after 7 – 16 weeks of these mind body therapies. In another study, Qigong masters were able to stimulate phagocytic activity. “The results obtained in this experiment provide evidence of the existence of Qi energy, its ability to influence an electrolyte solution and its biological effect” (Fukushima, Kataoka, Hamada, Matsumoto, 2001).
The evidence demonstrating that Taiji and Qigong benefit the immune system has led to deeper investigations into the physiological mechanisms creating this immune response. A study published by The International Journal of Neuroscience stated, 1 hour of Qi-training increased growth hormone which in turn stimulated tyrosine kinase activation in neutrophils. This is like a switch that turns on the neutrophils. Neutrophils are white blood cell that fight infections.
“Tai Chi produced decreases in inflammatory gene expression” (Bower, Irwin, 2016). Taiji and Qigong work with neuroendocrine pathways to reduce proinflammatory responses in the autonomic nervous system and hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. These stress relieving practices slow down the production of cortisol and the inflammation caused by the “neural alarm system” of the brain (Bower, Irwin, 2016).
“It has been well-established that psychological stress and depression impair anti-viral immune responses and activate innate immunity or markers of inflammation” (Morgan, Irwin, Chung, Wang, 2014). Mind-body practices improve mental and physical health of healthy individuals and those suffering from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and major depression by decreasing stress, lowering c-reactive protein levels, and improving quality of life (Morgan, Irwin, Chung, Wang, 2014).
In addition to improved immune function, Taiji, Qigong, and similar modalities have shown promise in “treating common cancer-related side effects, including nausea and vomiting, pain, fatigue, anxiety, depressive symptoms and improving overall quality of life” (Carlson et al, 2017). Healing or medical Qigong, particularly the Eight-Section Brocades, is a safe and effective way to treat depression in older adults (Chan, Tsang, 2019).
Taiji, Qigong, and similar therapies help support the immune system by relieving stress, lowering inflammation and c-reactive protein levels, and promoting overall wellness. Aside from immune health, more evidence is building to show the positive effects on Taiji and Qigong for the treatment of “hypertension, fall prevention outside of institutions, cognitive performance, osteoarthritis, depression, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pain, balance confidence, and muscle strength” (Solloway et al, 2016).
In our ever-changing world, it is critical to take care of ourselves and enhance our immune system. Taiji and Qigong enhance and protect our body's natural defenses and promote overall wellness.
Bower, J. E., & Irwin, M. R. (2016). Mind-body therapies and control of inflammatory biology: A descriptive review. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 51, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2015.06.012
Carlson, L. E., Zelinski, E., Toivonen, K., Flynn, M., Qureshi, M., Piedalue, K. A., & Grant, R. (2017). Mind-Body Therapies in Cancer: What Is the Latest Evidence?. Current oncology reports, 19(10), 67. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11912-017-0626-1
Chan, S., & Tsang, H. (2019). The beneficial effects of Qigong on elderly depression. International review of neurobiology, 147, 155–188. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.irn.2019.06.004
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Fukushima, M., Kataoka, T., Hamada, C., & Matsumoto, M. (2001). Evidence of Qi-gong energy and its biological effect on the enhancement of the phagocytic activity of human polymorphonuclear leukocytes. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 29(1), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1142/S0192415X01000022
Lee, M. S., Kim, M. K., & Ryu, H. (2005). Qi-training (qigong) enhanced immune functions: what is the underlying mechanism?. The International journal of neuroscience, 115(8), 1099–1104. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207450590914347
Morgan, N., Irwin, M. R., Chung, M., & Wang, C. (2014). The effects of mind-body therapies on the immune system: meta-analysis. PloS one, 9(7), e100903. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0100903
Scully, C., Georgakopoulou, E. A., & Hassona, Y. (2017). The Immune System: Basis of so much Health and Disease: 4. Immunocytes. Dental update, 44(5), 436–442. https://doi.org/10.12968/denu.2017.44.5.436
Solloway, M. R., Taylor, S. L., Shekelle, P. G., Miake-Lye, I. M., Beroes, J. M., Shanman, R. M., & Hempel, S. (2016). An evidence map of the effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes. Systematic reviews, 5(1), 126. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-016-0300-y