Shingles can be a particularly nasty problem, and treatment can be tough. It should be called herpes zoster, and it is caused by re-activation of varicella zoster virus (VZV) that causes chickenpox.
A new study from the Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, has shown that t’ai chi therapy can stimulate the immune system of patients with shingles to levels comparable to those achieved using a vaccine against VZV.
It was a controlled trial in which the researchers randomized 112 healthy adults aged 59 to 86, who had a history of varicella infection, to Tai Chi Chih (TCC, a simplified, standardized form of tai chi) or health education (HE) for 25 weeks. After 16 weeks of intervention, subjects were vaccinated against VZV. The results of blood tests showed that TCC alone increased immunity against VZV by an amount comparable to that induced by varicella vaccine in the HE group.
It was interesting that the effects of the two were additive; TCC, together with varicella vaccine, produced a substantially higher level of immunity against VZV than vaccine alone, raising it to levels usually observed in adults 30 years younger.
The tai chi group also showed significant improvements in scores for physical functioning, bodily pain, vitality, and mental health.
Regular readers will recall another report from this research group, indicating that TCC reduced the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. The two studies both show that there is something special going on: the practice does not only calm the mind and body, it also regulates parts of the body that are normally beyond voluntary control.
There are clearly plenty of reasons for taking up t’ai chi, though now we shall have to see whether other forms of t’ai chi can achieve the same results.