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Why Meditation May Help Hepatitis C

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. October 27, 2008

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Evidence indicates that incorporating meditation into your daily routine could prevent a Hepatitis C flare up. This article tells you how it works and what you can do.

Most who have emerged from the invincible self-perception of the teen years know that their body is more vulnerable to illness when under stress. Whether evaluating the common cold or cancer, medical researchers have repeatedly confirmed this association. For those managing chronic Hepatitis C, the connection between health and stress takes on monumental significance. There are various ways one can reduce or relieve stress. However, meditation’s ability to prevent liver disease from flaring up makes it a top stress-relieving choice for many with chronic Hepatitis C.

Understanding Stress

Because it is a subjective sensation that differs with each person, stress is difficult to define. Caused by both positive and negative experiences, stress is the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand. When feeling stressed, the body reacts by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream to enhance energy and strength. Designed to prepare for “fight or flight,” the initial result of this chemical release is:

  • Faster breathing
  • Quickened heart rate
  • Muscle tension

The physiological response described above is intended to boost people’s abilities when in physical danger. However, people often have no outlet for the extra energy and strength that was initiated by emotional stressors. Therefore, a person’s first line of defense against emotional stress is convincing the body to relax again. By quieting the mind and purposefully slowing down the breathing rate, meditation helps many people vent the tension in their body and subsequently achieve relaxation.

Meditation for Stress Relief

Eastern medical traditions and philosophies have recognized the health benefits of meditation for thousands of years. Due to its positive effects on relieving stress and consequently improving health, meditation is now widely practiced in the many parts of the Western world.

Meditation can be used for stress relief or as part of a spiritual practice. Either way, meditation is a tool to help quiet the mind while promoting awareness and a sense of well-being. Sometimes described as the practice of mindfulness or living in the present, there are many types of meditation a person can experiment with. Meditation can be self-taught or learned from a teacher, book or recording. While it may be simple to learn, regular meditation requires a commitment to its practice. Advocates claim that when part of a daily routine, meditation enforces health by relieving stress and tension.

Meditation for Hepatitis C

People with chronic viral hepatitis typically experience a flare-up of symptoms following a bout of stress. Various types of research have confirmed the connection between stress and its implication on liver inflammation. Some of the conclusions and physiological reasons supporting meditation for chronic Hepatitis C include:

  • Research on hypnotically induced fear and anxiety resulted in a significantly decreased flow of blood through the liver.
  • Those with Hepatitis C who were categorized as having a consistently stressed and uptight personality (type 1) were more likely to be associated with severe liver disease than those who had a more relaxed, easy-going personality.
  • During stress, natural killer cells multiply in the liver. Natural killer cells can contribute to liver cell death and the worsening of liver disease.
  • By monitoring the part of the brain that controls the liver, researchers observed that stress impairs blood flow and may lead to, or trigger, liver damage.
  • During periods of stress, the body releases glucocorticoids, which maintain balance in the function of each organ. Mice pre-treated with glucocorticoids were found to have deterioration in their liver function.
  • Therapies targeting stress reduction such as hypnosis, acupuncture and meditation can stimulate the vagus nerve, which counters the negative effects of stress on the liver.

All of the interactions between stress and the liver are not completely understood. However, there is an undeniable relationship between unrelieved stress and liver disease progression. While meditation does not offer a cure for Hepatitis C, its ability to relieve stress can reduce the virus’ opportunistic approach for causing liver damage.

References:

http://www.hbvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/stress_liver.pdf, The Liver: Stress and the Liver, Alan Franciscus, Retrieved September 22, 2008, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2008.

http://www.hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/Meditation.pdf, HCV Wellness: Meditation, Lucinda Porter, RN, Retrieved September 22, 2008, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2008.

http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/vahep?page=altmed-03-01, Alternative Therapies – Meditation, Retrieved September 22, 2008, United States Department of Veteran Affairs, 2008.

http://www.hepatitiswa.com.au/HC%20treatment.html, Treatment, Retrieved September 22, 2008, Hepatitis Council of Western Australia, 2008.

http://www.mtstcil.org/skills/stress-definition-1.html, What is Stress?, Retrieved September 25, 2008, Mountain State Centers for Independent Living, 2008.

http://www.stress.org/, Home and Stress Reduction, Stress Relievers, Paul J. Rosch, MD, FACP, Retrieved September 24, 2008, The American Institute of Stress, 2008.

http://www.webmd.com/depression/tc/meditation-topic-overview, Meditation – Topic Overview, Retrieved September 24, 2008, Healthwise, Incorporated, 2008.

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