Benefits of Massage on the Immune System

Massage is becoming one of the most popular complementary medical therapies in the world. According to researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, a study done by their department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, after just a forty-five-minute Swedish massage participant in the study showed an increased number of lymphocytes (commonly known as white blood cells). These cells play a major role in defending the body from disease.

Furthermore, participants in the study had lower cytokines levels, which are molecules known to play a part in inflammation.  When these molecules are consistently present in the body, they can cause symptoms of asthma, depression, and cardiovascular disease.  Other hormones that were drastically decreased in the body after only forty-five minutes were cortisol and vasopressin.

Cortisol is commonly referred to as the stress hormone. Mind you, cortisol is a hormone that helps convert proteins into energy. You cannot live without this hormone, but too much of it can do a lot of damage.  Constant high cortisol levels destroy healthy muscle and bone, slows down healing and normal cell regeneration, reduces the chemicals needed to make other important hormones, weaken digestion, reduced metabolism, and mental function, inhibit proper endocrine function, and weaken the immune system. Chronically high cortisol levels can also cause adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue may be a factor in several related conditions including fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, premature menopause, and others.

Vasopressin is another hormone that plays a key role in keeping the body in homeostasis.  It is responsible for water retention and releasing water when the body is dehydrated. It also helps with the production of feel good hormones such as oxytocin.  At high levels though, it can do some real damage. High levels of vasopressin have been linked to severe aggression, anxiety, depression, even congestive heart failure.

To know that even a single massage session can lead to such measurable changes in the immune system is wonderful news for the massage community. It shows to the public that massage can be incorporated into a routine to maintain a healthy lifestyle.


  1. Neurosci. 2009 Oct 5;150(1-2):111-5. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2009.03.010. Epub 2009 Apr 18.
  3. Caldwell HK, Young WS III (2006). “Oxytocin and Vasopressin: Genetics and Behavioral Implications” (PDF). In Lajtha A, Lim R. Handbook of Neurochemistry and Molecular Neurobiology: Neuroactive Proteins and Peptides (3rd ed.). Berlin: Springer. pp. 573–607. ISBN0-387-30348-0.