TIME HIV/AIDS

How Meditation May Help People With HIV

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A mindfulness routine may lead to better health outcomes

From the time a person is diagnosed with any illness, the focus of their healthcare often shifts to managing sickness rather than promoting wellbeing. But new research shows that a non-pharmacological intervention could help play a role in HIV patient’s mental and physical health. Practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM), a 20-minute twice-a-day mindfulness regimen, may help people with HIV feel better, a small new study finds.

The project’s research, which is being submitted to scientific journals but is not yet published, was done with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the David Lynch Foundation, a nonprofit that funds research on stress reduction methods, including TM, for at-risk populations. In the 39 HIV patients who completed the study, researchers measured health factors like stress levels, wellbeing (using an established spiritual wellbeing scale), levels of psychological distress and physical symptoms related to HIV, like fatigue. They then taught TM to the patients, and after three months of meditation, patients experienced significant improvement, the study authors say. They got sick less frequently, were less fatigued and more energized and had better general health and physical functioning, says Thomas Roth, director of the David Lynch Foundation HIV Initiative and TM teacher of 40 years. Psychological symptoms got a boost, too: patients reported being less stressed and anxious, with decreased anger, hostility and depressive symptoms.

MORE: You Asked: Is Meditation Really Worth It?

The study didn’t look at blood biomarkers for things like stress, not did it measure the patients’ T-cell counts, instead relying on reports from the people in the study. More research is needed, and for now, says Roth: “My prediction two years ago was that this could improve the quality of life of people living with HIV.”

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