Eight Hugs a Day — Keeps the Doctor Away?
Yes! Who would have thought? By giving eight hugs a day, you are improving your health! The healing hormone responsible for this is oxytocin, also known as the “bonding hormone”. By physically touching someone you care about, such as giving a hug, the levels of oxytocin made by your brain, markedly rise. This causes you – and the person you hugged – to feel calm, happier and more connected as well as producing other health benefits.
Oxytocin has long been known as the “pair bonding” hormone and the “cuddle” hormone for its effect on stable monogamous relationships. As an Ob/Gyn, I have been very familiar with the role of oxytocin in childbirth, allowing for uterine contractions and the birth of a baby, as well as breast-feeding with milk “let-down”.
Initial research in early 1990’s found that breastfeeding women tended to have lower blood pressure. Lactation is a time when huge amounts of oxytocin are released from the brain to the breast tissue allowing milk to flow. The connection between decreased blood pressure and oxytocin then led to further investigation into its breadth and healing power. Oxytocin receptors have now been identified in other tissues, including the heart, kidney, thymus, and pancreas.
New exciting research has shown that oxytocin can play a powerful role in protecting your heart. By touching another person, oxytocin is produced in your heart and travels throughout your blood vessels dilating them through a mechanism of increased nitric oxide. ( Not nitrous oxide, which is laughing gas!) Nitric oxide dilates our blood vessels, leading to a decrease in blood pressure, less inflammation and less plaque build-up. Excess chronic inflammation is the key player in plaque buildup in our arteries, known as atherosclerosis. Oxytocin has been shown to reduce free radical formation and other inflammatory markers decreasing the risk for heart attack.
At the University of Miami, researchers placed blood vessel cells under stress in the laboratory. Stress was meant to mimic stress conditions in our arteries, such as when a person is under chronic stress from working too many hours at a demanding job. Unsurprisingly, high levels of free radicals and inflammation were seen in the blood vessel cells. By adding oxytocin to the cells, the amount of free radical and inflammation, was reduced by 24 and 26 percent, respectively.
This is a phenomenal finding! Heart disease, stroke and heart attacks, are the number one killer of men and women in the United States today. Think about this – you could reduce your rate ( as well as your partner’s) of cardiovascular disease simply by giving them a hug. Studies done at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have found that women who reported the most amounts of hugs with their partner had the highest levels of oxytocin. And they also had the lowest blood pressure!
What other ways can you increase your oxytocin levels? Physical intimacy associated with sexual arousal and orgasm, leads to huge releases of oxytocin in both men and women – and this is highlighted in my book in various sections. If you don’t have the book yet… click here to get it!
Other forms of touch, such as holding hands, kissing and cuddling, giving and receiving a foot massage or backrub can produce this beneficial effect. In fact, you can also practice mind-body exercises, such as deep breathing exercises and yoga, and increase your oxytocin levels!
With the already known and still-to-emerge health and quality of life benefits derived from the natural release of oxytocin in your body, what are you waiting for? Start cultivating warm, loving, intimate relationships, no matter what stage of life you are in.
And remember – eight hugs a day keeps the doctor away!!!
For more info, check out this incredible video by Professor Paul Zak on Trust, Morality and Oxytocin… it will blow your mind!
If you can’t see the video above, try this link: https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_zak_trust_morality_and_oxytocin.html