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 Practice of mindfulness meditation slows the progression of HIV, study shows

Reducing stress can bolster immune system in HIV-positive adults, others

CD4+ T lymphocytes, or simply CD4 T cells, are the "brains" of the immune system, coordinating its activity when the body comes under attack. They are also the cells that are attacked by HIV, the devastating virus that causes AIDS and has infected roughly 40 million people worldwide. The virus slowly eats away at CD4 T cells, weakening the immune system.
But the immune systems of HIV/AIDS patients face another enemy as well — stress, which can accelerate CD4 T cell declines. Now, researchers at UCLA report that the practice of mindfulness meditation stopped the decline of CD4 T cells in HIV-positive patients suffering from stress, slowing the progression of the disease. The study was just released in the online edition of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of bringing an open and receptive awareness of the present moment to experiences, avoiding thinking of the past or worrying about the future. It is thought to reduce stress and improve health outcomes in a variety of patient populations.
"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 David Creswell, a research scientist at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA. "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."
Creswell and his colleagues ran an eight-week mindfulness-based stress-reduction (MBSR) meditation program and compared it to a one-day MBSR control seminar, using a stressed and ethnically diverse sample of 48 HIV-positive adults in Los Angeles. Participants in the eight-week group showed no loss of CD4 T cells, indicating that mindfulness meditation training can buffer declines. In contrast, the control group showed significant declines in CD4 T cells from pre-study to post-study. Such declines are a characteristic hallmark of HIV progression.
Creswell also noted that researchers found a "dose-response" relationship between MBSR class attendance and CD4 T cells, meaning, said Creswell, "the more mindfulness meditation classes people attended, the higher the CD4 T cells at the study's conclusion."
The researchers were also encouraged because the overall CD4 T cell effects remained even after controlling for a number of factors that could have skewed the study results. Most notably, they found equivalent protective effects for participants whether or not they were on antiretroviral medications for HIV. Even participants taking HIV medications showed the CD4 T cell buffering effect after the mindfulness meditation class, Creswell said.
There is emerging evidence from other studies that shows that behavioral stress-management programs can buffer HIV declines in HIV-positive people, Creswell noted. And while there has been an exponential increase of interest in and practice of mindfulness meditation in the West over the past 10 years, this study, he said, is the first to show an HIV disease protective effect with mindfulness meditation training.
In order to understand the health benefits of mindfulness meditation, Creswell and his colleagues at UCLA are now examining the underlying pathways through which mindfulness meditation reduces stress, using brain imaging, genetics and immune system measurements.
"Given the stress-reduction benefits of mindfulness meditation training, these findings indicate there can be health protective effects not just in people with HIV but in folks who suffer from daily stress," Creswell said.
This study was supported by postdoctoral research fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health, a seed grant from the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, and the UCLA General Clinical Research Center. Other authors were Hector F. Myers, Steven W. Cole and Michael R. Irwin, all of whom declare no financial interests or conflicts of interest regarding this study.
The Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA encompasses an interdisciplinary network of scientists working to advance the understanding of psychoneuroimmunology by linking basic and clinical research programs and by translating findings into clinical practice. The center is affiliated with the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
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Mindful Eating: Four Must-Know Tips for Eating More Mindfully
by Jamie Jefferson
Throw out your old notions of what you can and cannot eat. Through a process called mindful eating, you can eat what you love, enjoy it completely, and simply eat less of it because you slow down and pay attention while you are eating.

Eating mindfully is eating with awareness. So many of us mindlessly eat in front of the television, while driving or while surfing on the Internet, and by doing so, we end up eating way more than we intended to eat.

If you're eating while you are distracted, you aren't listening to the internal cues that your body is giving you. Your body knows when to stop eating so you can maintain a healthy weight. The key is in setting yourself up in an eating situation so you can listen to these cues.

Mindful eating happens when you pay attention to how the food is making you feel. It's a process of enjoying the sensory experiences associated with eating food. You should be present in the moment and experience each bite as it happens. It's very similar to watching your breath in yoga or meditation.

Here are four must-know tips for success with mindful eating.

1. Eat only when you are hungry. Your body's hunger is a natural cue that you need nutrition. True hunger is different from a craving. You should feel hungry in your gut and not just feel like you need to eat because you should. Most people need to eat every three to five hours.

2. Follow your cravings, within reason. You should eat what you want to eat, as long as it's not overly unhealthy. Although mindful eating is not designed to be a weight loss plan, you should try to find healthy alternatives for what you are craving.

Try to focus on the sensations you are craving. For example, the salty, fried taste of French fries can be replaced with some roasted potato wedges. If you can pinpoint the experience you are craving, you can often find a healthier alternative.

As you continue to practice mindful eating, you are likely to find that it's the whole, nutritious food that your body finds truly delicious. Your taste buds will savor fresh raspberries, for example, and might find a fried donut kind of yucky when you are really paying attention to the flavor.

3. Eat without distractions. If you normally make a habit of eating in front of the television or while driving, you need to change your eating habits. You should sit down and comfortably eat your meal in a leisurely fashion. Don't rush through your meal or you'll end up eating more than your body really needs. Eat each bite slowly and deliberately so you can savor each flavor and texture of the food you are eating.

4. Stop eating when you are full. When you practice mindful eating, you'll come to recognize a state where you are comfortably full but not stuffed. You shouldn't feel discomfort after eating. If your stomach feels too big you have eaten too much. Be sure to stop throughout the meal and ask yourself if you are really still hungry or if you are just eating out of habit.

By practicing these techniques for mindful eating you will be able to regain a healthy weight and enjoy the food you eat even more. Enjoy your new healthy habit!

Author's Bio
Jamie Jefferson writes for, where you'll find reviews and coupons for popular online diet plans, including
Nutrisystem Coupons . You can also see her online diet recommendation.
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