Happy Women's Week (QLD), and International Women's Day (for tomorrow)! Today I am writing about something a little different, the effect of affection on our health. To be specific, I am focusing on how the oxytocin ("bonding" or "love" hormone) surge can benefit us.
Why You Should Hug ALL the Women in Your Life on International Women's Day
The University of North Carolina has conducted a study which suggests that hugs are very important to a woman's health. Thirty-eight couples participated, first having their blood pressure and levels of oxytocin measured while in separate rooms. Then, they were asked to sit together, talk about a moment that made them especially happy, watch 5 minutes of a romantic film, talk for 10 more minutes, and of course, hug for 20 seconds. Both men and women had higher levels of oxytocin after hugging. However, women also experienced a drop in cortisol (the main stress hormone), reduced blood pressure and less anxiety. Women also experience stronger protective effects of oxytocin on cardiovascular health. Of course, men deserve hugs too.
Oxytocin and Nerve Regeneration
Oxytocin may also benefit neurological health, particularly in cases of neuro-regeneration. We produce our own hormones, growth factors and other substances that are meant to help maintain and repair tissues, but sometimes they need a helping hand. Laboratory research has found that two of these, insulin-like growth factor-1 and nerve growth factor, may be boosted by the increased presence of oxytocin. Rats given oxytocin after peripheral (not in the brain or spinal cord) nerve damage showed improved functional recovery and nerve regeneration than the control group. In other animal research, social interaction has been found to protect the brain and improve recovery from stroke, mirroring observations seen in humans. This effect was prevented by blocking the action of oxytocin, ruling out other causes. Additionally, oxytocin has been found to help turn stem cells into nerve cells, therefore recruiting new cells to repair any damage to the nervous system.
While human trials are always needed, these results are important because conventional medicine does not offer many answers for nerve regeneration, and many people with neurological damage are sadly socially isolated. If you know anyone recovering from a brain injury, stroke, limb injury involving nerve damage etc., please offer your time and affection.
I would like to finish off by saying that this is not a new idea. Edgar Cayce has written many times on the importance of "companion therapy", where a constant attendant provides physical affection and emotional support. If this is you, remember that he also wrote of the importance of going outside to spend time with them!