Massage Therapy isn’t just about relaxation. In multiple studies, massage is shown to lower cortisol levels and boost immune system function. In one study of HIV-positive men conducted by the Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami School of Medicine:
Twenty-nine gay men (20 HIV+, 9 HIV-) received daily massages for one month. A subset of 11 of the HIV+ subjects served as a within subject control group (one month with and without massages). Major immune findings for the effects of the month of massage included a significant increase in Natural Killer Cell number, Natural Killer Cell Cytotoxicity, soluble CD8, and the cytotoxic subset of CD8 cells. There were no changes in HIV disease progression markers (CD4, CD4/CD8 ratio, Beta-2 microglobulin, neopterin). Major neuroendocrine findings, measured via 24 hour urines included a significant decrease in cortisol, and nonsignificant trends toward decrease of catecholamines. There were also significant decreases in anxiety and increases in relaxation which were significantly correlated with increases in NK cell number.
In another study, HIV-positive adolescents reported feeling less anxious and depressed, and also had improved immune response:
Immune changes included increased Natural Killer cell number (CD56) and CD56+CD3-. In addition, the HIV disease progression markers CD4/CD8 ratio and CD4 number showed an increase for the massage therapy group only.
In other words, the study participants were less stressed and felt much less anxious and depressed, and had more Natural Killer Cells, which are a major component of the immune system. Cortisol is a necessary body hormone, but excessive cortisol has a negative effect on the immune system, weakening it. Lower cortisol levels help the immune system, while NK cells attack viruses, among other things, and as we enter cold and flu season, having a stronger immune system can lead to a healthier you!