Immune boost

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The first in a monthly series of columns about massage and healthy living by Anna Stanhope from Flow Massage.

Often when we think of ways to avoid getting colds or flu in the colder seasons we load up on immune boosting supplements such as vitamin C and zinc or herbs like Echinacea.

We also may try to keep extra warm and sanitise our hands frequently. However, a much better response can be to receive a therapeutic massage.

Most people are aware of the relaxation benefits of massage as well as stress relief and improved circulation, but many are unaware of the immediate positive impact massage can have on the immune system.

A study from Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles showed that, after just one massage, participants had increased their disease-fighting white blood cell count and decreased stress hormone levels. Because massage therapy helps heighten the body’s immune response as it naturally helps reduce pain and stress, it is one of the most enjoyable ways to stay healthy.

Additionally, researchers detected a sharp drop in pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines – which are believed to alter brain chemistry and induce symptoms of depression if left unchecked. Stress and inflammation are the primary building blocks of cancer, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.

Regular massage not only helps alleviate stress, but can naturally increase the immune system’s cytotoxic capacity (the activity level of the body’s natural killer cells) and decrease the number of T-cells, which improves the body’s immune functioning overall.

In one study by Gail Ironson, HIV positive men were given 45 minute massages five days a week, for a month. They showed an increase in serotonin and an increase in cells that are viewed as the first line of defence in the immune system.

It is important to know that it is not a good idea to receive a massage when you are in the midst of fighting off a cold or flu, as the increased circulation from the massage can promote the infection and, in turn, put extra pressure on the liver, kidneys and spleen – as well as increase the risk of spreading your germs to others.

It is most beneficial to receive massage therapy when you are well, or in the end phase of an infection once you are on your way to recovery.
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