Mark Bailey Blog

Could massage play a part in boosting your immune system?

It’s no secret that massage can help with a whole range of conditions, from chronic pain and headaches, to poor sleep, low energy levels and stress and anxiety, but what about boosting your immune system?

I was fascinated to watch the recent documentary on the BBC, ‘The truth about boosting your immune system’. It looked at how we can get the immune system working the best it can, as this is the first line defence for colds and viruses.

How easy is it to damage your immune defences?

Presenter Dr Ronx Ikharia, who is not a regular drinker, wanted to see what effect drinking alcohol would have on the immune system. She had blood samples taken before having 3 glasses of prosecco and then more blood samples taken nearly 12 hours later, to measure how many of each immune cells were present before and after drinking.

They were measuring white blood cells, known as immune cells. These fight against bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that make us unwell. The first type of front line defense are basophils, macrophages, neutrophils and natural killer cells. These cells head to an area within minutes of an infection entering our bodies, but they can’t always stop an infection. This is where our specialist second line defence immune cells come into action, these are lymphocytes T cells and B cells. These cells aren’t as fast but can be more effective, especially if an infection should strike again, helping build long term immunity. However, when these cells struggle that is when we become ill.

The results showed that drinking does decrease numbers of lymphocytes which are the specialist cells. Most drops in Dr Ikharia’s immune cells were in the region of 20-30% but some of the lymphocytes T cells dropped by 50% which would make us prone to infection.

The importance of diet and well-being

Life is about balance and as long as its within moderation this applies to alcohol or ‘naughty’ foods. Most people will get the required vitamins and minerals from eating a healthy balanced diet. However, studies have shown that a lot of people lack vitamin D during the winter months due to lack of sun, so a supplement could help give your immune system a boost during this time. It is important to get between 7-8 hours of sleep per day as this can also help keep your immune system fighting fit.

Fibre helps promote the growth of gut bacteria, and new research has found it provides supports to our immune cells allowing them to fight off infection. At the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, Dr Sumet Pancley has found an unknown benefit of eating fibre. A chemical called butyrate is produced in our gut when fibre is digested by gut bacteria.

Two samples of Dr Ikharia’s blood macrophages were prepared, the first untreated and the second with the addition of the  chemical butyrate. Salmonella is then released on them both to test the capacity of macrophages to kill bacteria. These were left over night and the next day the results were pretty amazing. The survival rate in the butyrate was 80% less than the untreated sample proving how important it is to get the right amount of fibre in our diet.

Under tested conditions Dr Ikharia had more blood samples taken before a test of acute stress, or fight or flight as you may know it. She attempted to hold a spider but she was really scared so couldn’t bring herself to do it. Her immune cells were monitored up to 20 minutes afterwards and there was over a 20% increase in immune cells present. Studies have also shown that having a cold shower for at least 30 seconds a day can have a similar effect and can reduce the chance of falling unwell by up to 30%.

Can massage help boost the immune system?

Professior Fulvio D’Acquisto, an immunologist from the university of Rowhampton, has been carrying out studies to see if massage can help children with HIV. The studies have shown an increase in the number of specialist lymphocyte T Cells in the patients blood. First of all a blood sample was taken before the 60 minute massage then another sample after. The results showed an increase in immune cells by 20% which again is pretty amazing.

When someone is massaged, nerves in the skin that connect to glands where T cells are stored are stimulated. The glands release lots of lymphocytes in the blood.

So if it has helped boost immune cells in HIV patients what effect could massage have on a healthy immune system?

The experiment 

6 volunteers took part in an experiment to exercise, eat better and sleep better to see what impact this would have on their immune system. Their immune health was tested using a measure know as neutrophils lymphocytes ratio or NLR. It measures the two types of immune cells, lymphocytes and neutrophils.

A good immune system has a healthy balance between the two types of cells with no more than 3 neutrophils to every one lymphocyte. Too many neutrophils can start to damage healthy cells as they are too aggressive.

5 out of the 6 had high ratios which suggested their immune systems were out of balance. As we said a healthy neutrophil to lymphocyte ratio should be between 1 and 3, they all had scores well above this.

They all had 6 weeks to see if they could improve their immune health by going on high fibre diets made of whole grains, pastas, beans and pulses like lentils and cereals, nuts as snacks and plenty of vegetables.

After 6 weeks only 5 could get their results as 1 person had contracted Covid. In 4 out of the 5 their NLR ratio had decreased and dropped to the much healthier range of 1-3. Only 1 person didn’t decrease as they came down with a cold during the experiment.

So if you want to help boost your immune system keep everything within moderation and don’t over do it. Eat a balanced diet, get at least 7-8 hours of sleep, have a cold shower every day and have the occasional massage.

The benefits of massage therapy
I’ve recently spent some time adding pages to my website which explain some of the many benefits massage therapy can provide and how they can be beneficial to everyone – from office workers and stay at home parents to sport professionals and retirees.

I’ve been a massage therapist since 2012 and I’ve learnt that people rarely suffer from one isolated problem so for me it’s all about understanding the underlying issue. I treat everyone who comes to me as an individual and I find out what is happening to them and, more importantly, why.

I hadn’t realised the range of benefits that can be achieved from a massage until I experienced it myself. I suffered a shoulder injury from dancing and struggled for well over a year. I visited the doctors but was only prescribed ibuprofen and rest. Unfortunately, there was little benefit and my pain continued to worsen. It was then that I decided to book myself a sports massage. After the first treatment I felt some relief from the problem. Within two months I was nearly back to full fitness.

It was then that I realised you don’t have to put up with chronic pain and discomfort. Massage therapy can help anyone overcome physical difficulties and get them back to doing everyday tasks and the things that they enjoy. There is even the potential to become pain free.

Massage therapy is about making you feel better as a whole, enhancing your overall health and well-being.

Visit my case studies page to find out how I’ve been supporting clients with a range of massage techniques.

Thanks for visiting,

If you’d like to book an appointment or discuss how massage could help you, please contact me for more information on 07949126324 or email mark@markbaileymassagetherapy.co.uk

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