"Boost your immune system with massage!" Our Junior Therapist Tanya Thomlinson presents a list of scientific facts.
Tanya: You know it is fall: air is crisp, leaves are changing colour, students are back in school … and all around you, people are sniffling, coughing, and sneezing! Time to boost your Vitamin C intake, stay well-hydrated, wash your hands frequently, and … get a massage! It’s true: studies have shown that regular massage can strengthen the immune system, helping people stay healthy and free of illness.
The immune system is a fascinating component of the human body. It is able to differentiate between your own cells and foreign “invader” cells. Like sentries along the watchtower of a castle watching for invaders, your white blood cells (WBCs) roam your body seeking foreign cells. When a threat is identified, certain WBCs are dispatched to combat the issue.
The immune system must not only work; it must be balanced, producing just enough of a response to handle the problem. An overactive immune system that produces an excessive response is an entirely different type of problem, where the immune system confuses the body’s cells with foreign cells, and begins to attack itself. This type of response is at the root of issues like allergies and autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and fibromyalgia.
A person’s emotional state can affect their immune system. Anger, stress, fatigue, and other negative emotions cause the release of hormones like cortisol, which decreases the number of a certain type of WBC, known as Natural Killer Cells (NKCs). These NKCs, along with lymphocytes and other WBCs, are essential for the immune system to defend against disease. The immune system works best when we are happy, content, and relaxed. Therapeutic massage releases the hormones dopamine and serotonin, which help us get to that relaxed and happy state so our immune system is able to perform its job.
Massage is an excellent tool for helping us to stay healthy and well, so don’t wait until you are sick to get a massage. In fact, if you are suffering from an acute illness such as cold or flu, it is best not to get a massage, as it may make your symptoms worse (not to mention, you might spread the illness to your therapist). Massage has an immediate effect on the immune system, and with regular massage, you will see cumulative, long-term benefits. Think of massage as a regular part of your regimen for staying healthy, along with good nutrition, enough sleep, and exercise.
Studies show regular massage helps boost the immune system:
- A 2010 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine concluded that massage increased the participants’ WBC count, and improved immune function for HIV patients.
- Another 2010 study, this one from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, showed several measurable benefits of massage. Among them: participants experienced an increase in the number of circulating lymphocytes, while their cortisol levels decreased.
- A 2005 study done by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami concluded that breast cancer patients who received regular massage (3 sessions/week for 5 weeks) showed increases in their levels of dopamine, NKCs and lymphocytes from the first to the last day of the study. In addition, they reported better mood and more energy.