Background: Guolin Qigong is a combination of meditation, controlled breathing and physical movement designed to control the vital energy (qi) of the body and consequently to improve spiritual, physical and mental health. Practice of Qigong has been reported to alter immunological function, but there have been few studies of its effects on cytokines, the key regulators of immunity.
Methods: Numbers of peripheral blood cytokine-secreting cells were determined by ELISPOT in 19 healthy volunteers aged 27 - 55, before they were taught the practice of Qigong and after 3, 7 and 14 weeks of daily practice. The effect of Qigong on blood cortisol was also examined.
Results: Numbers of IL4 and IL12-secreting cells remained stable. IL6 increased at 7 weeks and TNFalpha increased in unstimulated cultures at 3 and 7 weeks but decreased at these times in LPS and SAC-stimulated cultures. Of particular interest, IFNgamma-secreting cells increased and IL10-secreting cells decreased in PHA-stimulated cultures, resulting in significant increases in the IFNgamma:IL10 ratio. Cortisol, a known inhibitor of type 1 cytokine production, was reduced by practicing Qigong.
Conclusion: These preliminary studies in healthy subjects, although not necessarily representative of a randomized healthy population and not including a separate control group, have indicated that blood levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol may be lowered by short-term practice of Qigong and that there are concomitant changes in numbers of cytokine-secreting cells. Further studies of the effect of Qigong in patients with clinical diseases known to be associated with type 2 cytokine predominance are merited.