Behavioural training reduces inflammation

Heidi Ledford in Nature:

MeditationDutch celebrity daredevil Wim Hof has endured lengthy ice-water baths, hiked to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts and made his mark in Guinness World Records with his ability to withstand cold. Now he has made a mark on science as well. Researchers have used Hof’s methods of mental and physical conditioning to train 12 volunteers to fend off inflammation. The results, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, suggest that people can learn to modulate their immune responses — a finding that has raised hopes for patients who have chronic inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

In 2010, as a graduate student, Kox was exploring how the nervous system influences immune responses. That's when he first learned that Hof had said that he could regulate not only his own body temperature, but also his immune system. “We thought, ‘Alright, let’s give him a chance’,” says Kox. “But we thought it would be a negative result.” Kox, and his adviser, physician and study co-author Peter Pickkers, also at Radboud University Medical Center, invited Hof to their lab to investigate how he would react to their standard inflammation test. It involves exposure to a bacterial toxin, made by Escherichia coli, to induce temporary fever, headache and shivering. To Kox’s surprise, Hof’s response to the toxin was milder than that of most people — he had less severe flu-like symptoms, for example, and lower levels of inflammatory proteins in his blood2.

More here.