As science evolves, it often belatedly proves what we already know – what is logical and a fact that no one would doubt. Well it is doing it again. Its is realizing through medical studies that love is good for our health and wellbeing.
Perhaps only a few of us need proof of such, but our left brain just might get a boost from knowing that it is official – feeling love and feeling loved creates beneficial chemical and hormonal states that lead to healing and good health.
Here we will share with only a few of the many studies that you can access on the internet and in various magazines as well as Candace Pert’s book Molecules of Emotions and of course the film “What the #$*! do we know!?”.
One of the forerunners in the medical study of love is Dr. Dean Ornish M.D. who has written the book Love and Survival, the Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy, where he reports on many such studies.
A study at Yale involved 119 men and 40 women undergoing coronary angiography. Those who felt the most loved and supported had substantially less blockages in their heart arteries than the other subjects.
A related study was made on 10 thousand married men with no prior history of angina. with high levels of risk factors, such as elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and electrocardiogram abnormalities. Those who felt their wives did not show them love, experienced almost twice as much angina as the first group, who felt their wives did show them love.
Giving love seems to do the same for our aging process. A study of more than 700 elderly adults showed that aging was inhibited more when they felt they were contributing to others than when they received from others. The more love and support they gave, the more they benefited physically.
In another study, 276 healthy volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 55 received nasal drops containing rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. Researchers evaluated the subjects according to 12 types of relationships, including spouse, parents, parents-in-law, children and other close family members, neighbors, friends, co-workers schoolmates, and members of various groups. While almost all of the people exposed to the cold virus were infected, not everyone developed the signs and symptoms of a cold. The participants who reported only one to three types of relationships had more than four times the risk of developing a cold than those reporting six or more types of relationships. It appears that our emotional connections to those around us strengthen our immune system.
Dr. Dean Ornish concludes in his book, “When you feel loved, nurtured, cared for, supported, and intimate, you are much more likely to be happier and healthier. You have a much lower risk of getting sick and, if you do, a much greater chance of surviving”.
Initial research into the state of “falling in love” indicates that this state produces certain beneficial chemical reactions and hormonal effects. When two people are attracted to each other, a number of chemicals seem to increase.
One is PEA or phenylethylamine, which speeds up the flow of information between nerve cells. Others are dopamine, which make us feel good and norepinephrine, which stimulates the production of adrenaline. We will soon be overwhelmed with studies on this subject proving the benefits of loving and being loved.
Research at the Institute for HeartMath in California, USA, has discovered that when we feel love, or any positive emotion such as compassion, caring, or gratitude, our heart sends messages to the brain causing the secretion of hormones that positively affect our health and emotional state.
One concept at the Institute of HeartMath, is that the heart actually monitors the blood stream for hormones and translates the hormonal information into neurological information. When we are anxious, angry or worried, our heart’s rhythmic beating pattern becomes very incoherent inhibiting our brain’s cortex.
On the other hand, when we feel emotions like love, gratitude and appreciation, our heart beats rhythmically facilitating cortical function. These coherent heart rhythms create an inner synchronization improving how we think, feel and deal with disease.
In addition it appears that heart’s rhythms directly affect our nervous system itself bringing greater harmony and balance. Our autonomic nervous system is divided into two branches, one that speeds things up and another that slows things down. When we “out of love” with negative feelings, these two systems seem to lose their harmonious cooperation.
When we are in a non-loving state or when we are angry at someone, the two halves of the nervous system get out of sync with one another. It’s like they’re fighting each other: one tries to speed the heart up as the other tries to slow it down. This is what creates this very erratic heart rhythm. This in turn creates further emotional tension in our nervous system and mind.
However, when we are in a loving state, our hearts go into coherent heart rhythms allowing the body to go through its natural regenerative process,” he explains.
Science is beginning to uncover clear cut proof that love and compassion, that boost our immune system. For example, When subjects in an experiment felt angry for one five-minute period, their cortisol levels increased. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, suppresses the immune system. As a result, these subjects experienced suppressed secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA), an important antibody, for up to six hours after feeling angry for only five minutes.
Secretory IgA serves as the human body’s first line of defense against disease. Thus, lower than normal levels of IgA, leave us more susceptible to colds, flu and respiratory disease.
On the other hand, when these subjects felt love and appreciation for just one five-minute period, their secretory Iga rose significantly. Scientists noticed that while the rise in IgA spikes after feeling love for five minutes and then drops off, it then begins a slow rise that continues for many hours afterward.
A few years ago researchers at the Institute of HeartMath used positive visualization and inner cultivation of positive emotions to teach 30 people how to feel love in a conscious manner.
One month later, they measured the study subjects’ levels of both cortisol and DHEA, known as the anti-aging hormone. The measurement of those two hormones is considered to be a very good measure of stress and aging. If they are out of balance, with high cortisol and low DHEA, we will have rapid aging.
They found that the cortisol levels for the whole group had decreased 23 percent while the group’s DHEA levels increased 100 percent across the board. It appears that learning to love and dwelling on feelings of love brings those hormones into balance positively affecting our health.
When we mature from alienation, anger and bitterness to compassion, love and gratitude, our health is greatly improved.
Candace Pert, Ph.D., a research professor at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and author of Molecules of Emotion, Why You Feel the Way You Do (Scribner, 1997), reports that endorphins, which are associated with the feeling of bliss, help us “bond” with other people.
In other words, they help us form loving relationships. Endorphins are “natural endogenous morphine-like substances that we produce in our brain, sex organs, gut, immune system, and heart,” says Pert.
According to this scientist, “Certainly the data would suggest that endorphins are involved” when we feel love. Endorphins are known to create a positive, bliss-like feelings as well as to stimulate the special immune system cells, called Natural Killer cells, which fight cancer. In addition, they improve digestion and elimination.
Fortunately we can receive the benefits of love even if we do not have a lover or spouse. We can feel love for a co-worker, a parent, a child, or a sibling. Or even be for a dog, cat, fish, or plants. And of course for God.
Studies show that people live healthier lives and heal better after a major illness or surgery if they own a pet- especially the elderly fare better if they own pets.
We can also create the same positive hormonal harmony by focusing on feelings of deep gratitude or appreciation towards persons, a place, our food, an actor, a politician a movie, a concert, or any being, object, activity or event that makes us feel good. Positive feelings such as love and gratitude improve our internal physiology balancing our autonomic nervous system. Feeling love and feeling loved is literally health-building and healing.
In other research the “neurobiology of parental love.” In this and other studies it has been found that hormone oxytocin – associated with feelings of love for a child and also with breastfeeding – has powerful effects on the body, mind and behavior. It is nature’s antidepressant and anti-anxiety hormone. It creates feelings of calm and a sense of connection, so it actually shapes how we view the world. It also reduces cravings, which makes it the key to healing addictions of all kinds. For example, rats addicted to heroin used less of the drug when experimenters raised oxytocin levels in their brains.
Much more will be affirmed in the coming years about how beneficial it is for us to be loved but equally to love and appreciate others and life itself. As mentioned in the beginning, we do not need science to tell us this, but perhaps we need to be reminded.
In the coming chapters, as we work on freeing up our innate feelings of love, let us remember that this is the wise choice for our own selves on all levels.
(The information in this chapter if from www.crystalinks.com/love.html as well as the heartmath publications.)