Massage improves immune function: Studies show benefit in different circumstances

There is mounting evidence that massage therapy supports the immune system. Research among groups of people in different situations showed that massage increased the activity of natural killer cells, white blood cells that can attack tumors.

Four studies completed by the Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami Medical School demonstrated improvement in immune function after receiving massage.

The first TRI study examined the effects of massage on women with breast cancer. After 5 weeks of massage sessions, three times a week, natural killer cells increased and anxiety decreased by 50 percent. According to Tiffany Field, PhD and director of TRI, these women showed a "whopping increase" in cells that attack tumors and infections.

In the second study, massage given to thirty HIV-positive men resulted in improvements for objective measurements in three areas -- psychological, immunological, and endocrine functions.

Field believes that reduction of the stress response is what helps heal. "We know that cortisol [a stress hormone] kills off natural killer cells and in our studies we are seeing an increase in these [natural killer] cells." Similar results were reported with a group of HIV-positive children, and another with HIV-positive teenage girls.

Other research reported increased immune response with massage for a group of students preparing for exams. This supports the argument that massage improves the function of the immune system for healthy and ill alike, helping the body better fight disease.

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