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The Influence of Concentration/Meditation on Autonomic Nervous System Activity and the Innate Immune Response

A Case Study

Kox, Matthijs, PhD; Stoffels, Monique, MSc; Smeekens, Sanne P., MSc; van Alfen, Nens, MD, PhD; Gomes, Marc, MD, PhD; Eijsvogels, Thijs M.H., PhD; Hopman, Maria T.E., MD, PhD; van der Hoeven, Johannes G., MD, PhD; Netea, Mihai G., MD, PhD; Pickkers, Peter, MD, PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3182583c6d
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Objective In this case study, we describe the effects of a particular individual’s concentration/meditation technique on autonomic nervous system activity and the innate immune response. The study participant holds several world records with regard to tolerating extreme cold and claims that he can influence his autonomic nervous system and thereby his innate immune response.

Methods The individual’s ex vivo cytokine response (stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells with lipopolysaccharide [LPS]) was determined before and after an 80-minute full-body ice immersion during which the individual practiced his concentration/meditation technique. Furthermore, the individual’s in vivo innate immune response was studied while practicing his concentration/mediation technique during human endotoxemia (intravenous administration of 2 ng/kg LPS). The results from the endotoxemia experiment were compared with a historical cohort of 112 individuals who participated in endotoxemia experiments in our institution.

Results The ex vivo proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine response was greatly attenuated by concentration/meditation during ice immersion, accompanied by high levels of cortisol. In the endotoxemia experiment, concentration/meditation resulted in increased circulating concentrations of catecholamines, and plasma cortisol concentrations were higher than in any of the previously studied participants. The individual’s in vivo cytokine response and clinical symptoms after LPS administration were remarkably low compared with previously studied participants.

Conclusions The concentration/meditation technique used by this particular individual seems to evoke a controlled stress response. This response is characterized by sympathetic nervous system activation and subsequent catecholamine/cortisol release, which seems to attenuate the innate immune response.

From the Departments of Intensive Care Medicine (M.K., J.G.v.d.H., P.P.), Medicine (M.S., S.P.S., M.G.N.), Neurology (N.v.A.), Cardiology (M.G.), and Physiology (T.M.H.E., M.T.E.H.), Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre; and Nijmegen Institute for Infection, Inflammation and Immunity (N4i) (M.S., S.P.S., M.G.N.), Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Matthijs Kox, PhD, Department of Intensive Care Medicine, Internal Mail 710, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Geert Grooteplein 10, 6500 HB, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. E-mail: m.kox@ic.umcn.nl

M.G.N. was supported by a Vici grant of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

M.S. and S.P.S. contributed equally.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

The research participant described in this study provided written consent to the publication of details of these experiments and information that may serve to identify him.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (www.psychosomaticmedicine.org).

Received for publication June 29, 2011; revision received January 2, 2012.

Copyright © 2012 by American Psychosomatic Society
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