Massages are often marketed as a form of self-care. A 30-60 minute shortcut to calm down, relax, ease anxiety, tension, and even sleep better. But can it do more than just help a person relax? After such positive results with mental health, scientists have been wondering if massage therapy does anything to our physical health as well. Spoiler alert, it does! “Researchers working with patients with compromised immune systems have found massage therapy can improve how the immune system functions,” said Jeff Smoot, 2015 President of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). “Those same benefits can translate to people seeking to fight off the common cold, flu and other seasonal illnesses.” In other words, massage therapy is an immune system boost!
Clinical studies and research have found that while massage does help alleviate stress and mental strain, it also naturally increases the immune system as well. There are a few reasons massage therapy boosts the immune system, keep reading to find out how.
Immune System Boost #1 – Stress and Hormone Levels
No one likes stress. It’s not good for your mental health, and as it turns out, not good for your physical health either. People who have higher levels of stress tend to get more sick than those who aren’t constantly stressed. Combine that with the chaos of the holidays and the colder weather, and we have a recipe for certain sicknesses.
Massages also impact a person’s hormone levels. Along with decreasing the stress hormone cortisol, it also decreases vasopressin, a hormone related to aggressive behavior. Lower levels of cortisol and vasopressin mean more emotional and mental stability. On the flip side, researchers have found that a light touch massage greatly increases a persons’ level of oxytocin. Aka “the love hormone”, which again keeps us stabilized, uplifted, and full of positive energy. The good news is that you can actually work on increasing oxytocin at home by holding hands with someone you care about, petting an animal, and listening to comforting music.
Immune System Boost #2: Increase in Lymphocytes and Natural Killer Cells
If you remember from high school science classes, white blood cells are the cells of the immune system, which are involved in protecting the body again both disease and foreign invaders. Lymphocytes are a form of white blood cells that occur specifically in the lymphatic system. To get even more specific, a subtype of lymphocytes are called natural killer cells. These cells play a major role in the host-rejection of both tumors and virally infected cells. But what do these specific immunity-boosting cells have to do with massage therapy?
In a study done by the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, researchers found that those who received a 45-minute massage had an increased number of lymphocytes after the message. Scientists are finding that massage therapy is increasing the activity level of the body’s white blood cells. This shows massages can do much more for our physical health than we ever thought possible.
To go even further, another study done by the Touch Research Institutes, University of Miami School of Medicine wanted to see how that raised activity level of lymphocytes could affect women with breast cancer. On a mental level, participants who participated in a 30-minute session 3 times a week noted less depressive thoughts, anxiety, pain, anger. They also noticed an increase in energy as the experiment went on. On a more physiological level, dopamine levels, natural killer cells, and lymphocytes greatly increased as the experiment went on as well. This helped these women both fight their cancers and react better to their chemotherapy treatments. These findings show that massage therapy is extremely beneficial in revamping and revitalizing the offensive, disease-fighting cells of the body.
Immune System Boost #3: Cytokines and Inflammation Prevention
Based on research, we can easily see that massage therapy is great for the immune system’s offensive line. But what about the defensive? In our last blog, we discussed the issues of inflammation on the body – specifically the ones related to arthritis and natural ways to treat it with essential oils – but inflammation can occur all over the body. In some cases, inflammation is actually a good thing. It is a positive sign that the body is doing its job to protect you. But when the inflammation is constant, whatever is inflamed won’t function the same as it would without the inflammation.
The findings from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles study showed lower levels of cytokines in the body after a 30-minute massage. Cytokines are essentially a substance secreted by certain immune cells and play a major role in inflammation. Extra cytokines may sound like a great thing to have on hand in the body. But as it turns out, that’s not the case at all! Excess cytokines lead to chronic high levels of inflammation. This can lead to conditions such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, and even depression.
Essentially, science is showing that massage therapy can reduce cytokine production. It keeps the body free from excess “gunk”. This means it’s lighter and more efficient for when cytokine production is actually necessary.
Let Us Help You!
A single massage treatment could help boost your immune system. And could help you cope better with stress. Not to mention you’ll feel better too! Massage therapy may be a great addition to your wellness routine. Just like proper nutrition and regular exercise can keep your muscles strong and mind sharp, regular massage can keep your immune system heightened. Contact us to schedule an introductory session and get your immune system back on track before the New Year!
* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.