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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.
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Previous research has reported that individuals high in the need for Power, high in inhibition, and high in power stress (the HHH group) are more likely than other individuals to report more severe illnesses. The present study investigates the possibility that the mechanism underlying this relationship is greater sympathetic activation in the HHH group which has an immunosuppressive effect. College males with the HHH syndrome reported more frequent and more severe illnesses than other individuals, as in previous studies. More of the HHH than other subjects also showed above average epinephrine excretion rates in urine and below average concentrations of immunoglobulin A in saliva (S-IgA). Furthermore, higher rates of epinephrine excretion were significantly associated with lower S-IgA concentrations, and lower S-IgA concentrations were significantly associated with reports of more frequent illnesses. The findings are interpreted as consistent with the hypothesis that a strong need for Power, if it is inhibited and stressed, leads to chronic sympathetic overactivity which has an immunosuppressive effect making individuals characterized by this syndrome more susceptible to illness.
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