Hug It Better
Non-Food Ways to Well Being
This month’s blog posts will look at surprising ways you can improve your physical and mental health that don’t involve food or exercise. All are easy to implement and cost nothing. First we’ll look at the power of hugging. For more non-food based well being tips see the blogposts: Night, Light and Weight and A Walk in the Park.
Hug it Better
This post is mainly about a wonder drug called Oxytocin. When I say drug I actually mean hormone, but it has many of the effects people seek when they take recreational drugs. Oxytocin is one of the key peptides produced by the body during child birth. It also aids maternal and paternal bonding and milk production.
Oxytocin – Not Just for Mothers
As well as playing a key role in childbirth oxytocin is sometimes known as the cuddle hormone, or the love hormone, as it is released during tactile contact with another human being or during socially bonding interactions. Here are some of its effects:
- Frequent hugs between couples are associated with lower blood pressure and higher oxytocin levels in premenopausal women (1).
- Having a supportive partner is associated with higher oxytocin levels in both men and women (2).
- Touch protects against stress; women with positive physical contact with their partner before a stressful event exhibited lower cortisol and heart rate responses to the stress. (3).
Oxytocin and Hunger
There is accumulating evidence from animal and human studies that oxytocin is involved in regulating hunger and eating behaviour. Oxytocin appears to reduce food cravings and food intake, decreases cortisol and lowers the post postprandial rise in blood glucose (4,5).
Love and Addictions
Being in love inspires many of the same symptoms as addictive behaviour including euphoria, cravings and emotional and physical dependence. However, romantic love is usually a positive aspect of life that has evolved over 4 million years as a survival mechanism to encourage pair-bonding and reproduction. Conversely, drug, food or behavioural addictions are often negative and damaging to the individual and their loved ones.
MRI scans confirm that feelings of intense romantic love engage regions of the brain’s reward system that are also activated during drug and/or behavioral addiction. It is thought that due to these shared pathways those with addictions could benefit from socially rewarding experiences such as creating positive attachments to others and group therapy sessions (6).
Hug Yourself Happy
Hugging is associated with reducing stress and increasing positive emotions. For the benefits to kick in a good hug needs to last at least 20 seconds. Hugging doesn’t need to be limited to romantic relationships but do check that the person you are about to hug wants to be hugged.
1. 2005 Apr;69(1):5-21.Epub 2004 Dec 29. More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Light KC, Grewen KM, Amico JA.
2. Psychosom Med. 2005 Jul-Aug;67(4):531-8. Effects of partner support on resting oxytocin, cortisol, nor-epinephrine, and blood pressure before and after warm partner contact. Grewen KM et al.
3. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2007 Jun;32(5):565-74. Epub 2007 May 11. Effects of different kinds of couple interaction on cortisol and heart rate responses to stress in women. Ditzen et al.
4. Int J Obes (Lond).2016 Nov;40(11):1707-1714. Oxytocin’s inhibitory effect on food intake is stronger in obese than normal-weight men. Thienel M et al.
5. Diabetes. 2013 Oct;62(10):3418-25. Oxytocin reduces reward-driven food intake in humans. Ott V et al.
6. Front Psychol. 2016 May 10;7:687. Intense, Passionate, Romantic Love: A Natural Addiction? How the Fields That Investigate Romance and Substance Abuse Can Inform Each Other. Fisher HE et al.