Augmenting Immune Responses to Varicella Zoster Virus in Older Adults: A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Tai Chi

Authors

  • Michael R. Irwin MD,

    1. Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, Semel Institute for Neuroscience, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
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  • Richard Olmstead PhD,

    1. Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, Semel Institute for Neuroscience, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
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  • Michael N. Oxman MD

    1. Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of California at San Diego, San Diego, California
    2. San Diego Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, San Diego, California.
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Address correspondence to Michael R. Irwin, MD, Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, 300 UCLA Medical Plaza, Room 3130, Los Angeles, CA 90095. E-mail: mirwin1@ucla.edu

Abstract

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the effects of a behavioral intervention, Tai Chi, on resting and vaccine-stimulated levels of cell-mediated immunity (CMI) to varicella zoster virus (VZV) and on health functioning in older adults.

DESIGN: A prospective, randomized, controlled trial with allocation to two arms (Tai Chi and health education) for 25 weeks. After 16 weeks of intervention, subjects were vaccinated with VARIVAX, the live attenuated Oka/Merck VZV vaccine licensed to prevent varicella.

SETTING: Two urban U.S. communities between 2001 and 2005.

PARTICIPANTS: A total of 112 healthy older adults aged 59 to 86.

MEASUREMENTS: The primary endpoint was a quantitative measure of VZV-CMI. Secondary outcomes were scores on the Medical Outcomes Study 36-item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36).

RESULTS: The Tai Chi group showed higher levels of VZV-CMI than the health education group (P<.05), with a significant rate of increase (P<.001) that was nearly twice that found in the health education group. Tai Chi alone induced an increase in VZV-CMI that was comparable in magnitude with that induced by varicella vaccine, and the two were additive; Tai Chi, together with vaccine, produced a substantially higher level of VZV-CMI than vaccine alone. The Tai Chi group also showed significant improvements in SF-36 scores for physical functioning, bodily pain, vitality, and mental health (P<.05).

CONCLUSION: Tai Chi augments resting levels of VZV-specific CMI and boosts VZV-CMI of the varicella vaccine.

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