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Researchers from the University of Miami's Schools of Medicine and Psychology have determined that compassionate love as well as a faith in a compassionate Higher Power increases healing time and decreases disease progression among those with HIV.
The researchers utilized the "Working Model of Compassionate Love'' by Dr. Lynn Underwood to analyze and measure 177 people infected with HIV for ten years.
Over the ten year period the patients were assessed for viral load and the presence of CD4 cells: CD4 is a glycoproteins that rests on immune cells – but CD4 cells refer to a type of T-cell that activates antiviral activities. CD4 cell count is a reflection of the strength of the immune system.
Along with these assessments, the researchers periodically interviewed each of the patients, and the patients also provided essays for the researchers to review and assess. These assessments resulted in hierarchical ratings for each of the qualifications – using a process called Hierarchical Linear Regression Analysis. These in turn provided quantitative and qualitative analysis in order to assess each patient and compare their levels of compassionate love – achieved through their receiving it and giving it to others.
The research found that those who both gave and received the most compassionate love while maintaining compassionate love towards self (related to self-worth and self-forgiveness) had substantially less disease progression, greater CD4+ and less HIV viral load over time.
The research also found that those who felt that God/Higher Power was loving and loved them had significantly slower HIV progression, while those who felt that God was punishing them and/or seen Him as harsh had faster progression of their HIV.
This vision of themselves in relation to a Higher Power also reflected upon their level of compassionate love towards self. Those who felt God/Higher Power loved them also tended to extend more compassionate love to others, and were able to receive more compassionate love from others. This combination resulted in less disease progression, a lower viral load and more CD4.
The definition used in relation to the "Openness and receptivity to spirituality" by the researchers was defined as:
"The spiritual awareness of being part of something important beyond oneself and feeling connected to a higher presence. Being open and receptive for the so-called "inspired" quality of compassionate love."
Those who felt unloved and saw themselves as rejected, in turn gave and received less compassionate love according to the research. This combination was also accompanied by those patients having higher viral loads, less CD4 and greater disease progression.
The research also found that those with greater levels of combined compassionate love also were less likely to transmit HIV to others – not necessarily because they were using more protection, but because their viral loads achieved undetectable levels over time, and in this state, their ability to transmit HIV to others is reduced by 96% according to the research.
Through their statistical models, the researchers were able to separate these factors of compassionate love from other influences, such as drug dependency. Their data enabled them to also separate the effects of compassionate giving versus receiving. However, they found that these were connected in terms of the results.
Critical to the effect of compassionate love in the study was the element of free choice. That form of giving or receiving related to obligation (such as a person being obligated, or otherwise employed to provide the service) was found not effective in the equation, as compared to giving and receiving that was done voluntary and without the expectation of reward.
Nearly every medicine – even conventional Western medicine – has accepted the effects of compassion and love upon healing. This is because it is easily observed clinically - yet it is difficult to prove. While some have called this a placebo-type effect, it is very hard for a person to manipulate their CD4 cell count or viral load consciously.
This points to the interaction between our spirit and our physical bodies. Truly, clinical death research illustrates that the self or spirit can leave the physical body and look down upon it. And we can observe a dead lifeless body being devoid of that spirit.
This only points to the fact that the state of the spirit – the self – is critical to the health of the body. It is within this fact that each of us can influence our own immunity and ability to counteract and prevent illness.
It doesn't eliminate the need to treat the body responsibly, but it sure helps facilitate that effort.
Heidemarie Kremer, Gail Ironson, Lauren Kaplan, Rick Stuetzle, and Mary A. Fletcher, "Compassionate Love as a Predictor of Reduced HIV Disease Progression and Transmission Risk," Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2013, Article ID 819021, 13 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/819021
Fehr B, Sprecher S, Underwood LG (Eds). The Science of Compassionate Love: Theory, Research, and Applications. Wiley, 2008.
Adams C. The Conscious Anatomy: Healing the Real You. Logical Books, 2008.