Practicing mindfulness meditation helps reduce stress in HIV/AIDS patients, slowing progression of the disease, according to a study released in the online edition of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Researchers at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the University of California, Los Angeles, wanted to find effective, low-cost ways to improve outcomes for those with HIV/AIDS. CD4+ T cells coordinate activity of the immune system. The HIV virus attacks CD4+ T cells, weakening immunity. Stress further impairs CD4+ T cells. The UCLA research showed that mindfulness meditation buffered destruction of CD4+ T cells.

“This study provides the first indication that mindfulness meditation stress-management training can have a direct impact on slowing HIV disease progression,” said lead study author, J. David Creswell. The subjects—48 HIV-positive adults in Los Angeles—were randomly assigned to either an 8-week mindfulness-based stress
reduction (MBSR) program or a 1-day MBSR control seminar. Those in the 8-week program did not lose any CD4+ T cells. In contrast, those in the control seminar showed significant declines in CD4+ T cells during the study period, indicating progression of the HIV disease. Researchers noted a “dose-response” relationship between MBSR class attendance and CD4+ T cells. The more meditation classes participants attended, the more CD4+ T cells they had at study end.

Creswell and colleagues are continuing
research to understand the nature of the mechanisms through which mindfulness meditation
reduces stress.