Massage therapy helps preserve the immune systems of HIV-positive children who do not have access to antiretroviral medication, according to recent research.

“Massage Treatment in HIV-1 Infected Dominican Children: A Preliminary Report on the Efficacy of Massage Therapy to Preserve the Immune System in Children without Antiretroviral Medication” was conducted by staff of the University of Miami School of Medicine, Division of Disease Prevention, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Department of Medicine, and Touch Research Institutes; and staff at Robert Reid Cabral Children’s Hospital in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Fifty-four HIV-positive children, without antiretroviral medication, from Robert Reid Cabral Children’s Hospital, participated in the study. The children were randomly assigned to either a massage group or a friendly visit control group.

Those in the massage group received two 20-minute massage sessions per week for 12 weeks. Those in the friendly visit control group received two 20-minute friendly visits, which involved activities such as reading, talking or playing quiet games, per week for 12 weeks.

The massage sessions consisted of moderate-pressure stroking and kneading, administered by trained nurses, with unscented oil.

Outcome measures included absolute helper (CD4/T4) and suppressor (CD8/T8) cell counts, two markers of disease progression. Blood was drawn at baseline and at the end of the 12-week study to assess lymphocyte levels. Lymphocytes are the main means of providing the body with immune capability.

By the end of the study, data were available for 24 of the 54 subjects. The results showed that the mean CD4 cell count increased in the massage group and decreased in the control group. Also, CD4 cell counts increased significantly from the start to the finish of the study for subjects in the massage group, as opposed to those in the control group.

The risk of having a 20-percent or greater decrease in CD4 cell count throughout the 12-week study was significantly higher for children in the control group as compared with those who received massage. Lymphocyte loss, in general, was greater in the control group as compared with that of the massage group. Fifty-seven percent of the children in the control group lost 50 or more CD8 lymphocytes, whereas 10 percent of the massage group lost 50 or more CD8 lymphocytes.

“[M]assage therapy appears to have a positive impact on immune function in HIV+ children not receiving antiretroviral medications,” state the study’s authors. This, they conclude, “may offer hope to thousands of children worldwide without access to antiretrovirals, or who may not benefit from antiretroviral treatment.”

Source: University of Miami School of Medicine Division of Disease Prevention, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Department of Medicine, and Touch Research Institutes; and Robert Reid Cabral Children’s Hospital, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Authors: Gail Shor-Posner, Ph.D.; Maria-Jose Miguez, M.D., Ph.D.; Maria Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D.; Eddy Perez-Then, M.D.; and Maryann Fletcher, Ph.D. Originally published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, December 2004, Vol. 10, No. 6, pp. 1093-1095.

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