How many hugs have you had today? Neuroeconomist Paul Zak, also known as "Dr. Love," recommends at least eight hugs a day to feel happier and more connected, as well as nurture relationships. As psychotherapist Virginia Satir said:
"We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth."
There may very well be a "hug threshold" that allows your body to produce ample amounts of oxytocin, which is released in response to physical touch such as breast-feeding, orgasm, hugs, snuggling, holding hands, partner dance, massage, bodywork, and prayer. The neuropeptide oxytocin, released by your pituitary gland, is a naturally occurring hormone in the body with incredibly powerful, health-giving properties.
This "love hormone" is also a key reason why the simple act of hugging is such an incredible way to enhance bonding with others but also boost your physical, and emotional, health.
How Hugging Makes You Healthier
Hugging increases levels of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that acts as a hormone. This, in turn, has been observed to have beneficial physiological effects on your cardiovascular health and emotional happiness. One group of researchers observed, for example, a reduction in blood pressure among adults following a brief episode of warm contact with their partner. A 20-second hug, along with 10 minutes of hand-holding, reduces the harmful physical effects of stress, including its impact on your blood pressure and heart rate (Grewen, Anderson, Girdler & Light, 2003). This makes sense, since positive physical contact as hugging and reduces cortisol, increases oxytocin, and lowers systolic blood pressure in stressful situations (Holt-Lunstad, Birmingham & Light, 2008). But researchers suggest there is even more to it than that.
The skin contains a network of tiny, egg-shaped rapidly adapting mechanoreceptors called Pacinian corpuscles with a large receptive field that can sense pressure and vibration and which are in contact with the brain through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve winds its way through the body and provides input and receives sensation from the heart, liver, and digestive tract. (Freberg, 2006). The vagus nerve is also connected to oxytocin receptors. One theory is that stimulation of the vagus triggers an increase in oxytocin, which in turn leads to the cascade of health benefits.
A 10-second hug a day can lead to biochemical and physiological reactions in your body that can significantly improve your health. Hugging has been observed to stimulates your nervous system while decreasing feelings of loneliness, combating fear, increasing self-esteem, defusing tension, and showing appreciation. According to researchers, hugging has been observed to (Forsell & Åström, 2012):
The effects of connection
There's no doubt that physical touch of all kinds feels good. Whether it is a hug or a handshake, physical touch has a powerful effect on the human psyche resulting in us feeling happy, regardless if you are the toucher or touchee; connection, big or small, results in happiness.
Yet, many people are touch-deprived. One poll found that one-third of people receive no hugs on a daily basis while 75 percent said they wanted more hugs. Findings such as these, coupled with the emotional and health benefits of human touch, have led to the emergence of cuddle therapy centers, where people can pay for a lunchtime cuddle.
However, some have questioned whether or not physical contact from strangers has the same impact as those from someone you know and trust. While cuddling with a spouse or partner has been shown to boost satisfaction in relationships, some researchers have observed that hugs are only beneficial if trust is involved.
Neurophysiologist Jürgen Sandkühler, Head of the Centre for Brain Research at the Medical University of Vienna actually cautioned against worldwide "free hugs" campaigns (where strangers offer hugs to others), saying that this may be perceived as threatening and actually increase emotional burden and stress. However, significant benefits have been found from cuddling with a pet, which shows hugs don't have to only be between humans to be beneficial to your heart and overall health.
The Importance of Hugging
On average, people spend on hour a month hugging. That doesn't seem like much, but when you consider that the average hug is 3 seconds long, that adds up to be a lot of hugs.
And if you had any doubt about the importance of touch, consider that children who lack physical connection have delays in walking, talking, and reading. The act of hugging has a near-immediate impact on health, lowering your heart rate and inducing a calming effect while also leading to a more upbeat mood.
Touch is described as a universal language that can communicate distinct emotions with startling accuracy. Researchers observed that touch alone can reveal emotions including anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy, with accuracy rates of up to 83 percent (Hertenstein, Holmes, McCullough & Keltner, 2009).
Hugging is a way to encourage your body to release oxytocin, and the more oxytocin your pituitary gland releases, the better able you are to handle life's stressors.
Moreover, oxytocin quite likely plays a role in why pet owners heal more quickly from illness, why couples live longer than singles, and why support groups work for people with addictions and chronic diseases.
Oxytocin has also been found to reduce the cravings of drug and alcohol addiction, as well as for sweets. It even has a positive influence on inflammation and wound healing. Even beyond this, regular hugs have the added benefit of:
Do You Need a Hug?
Often making a concerted effort to hug the people close to you is one of the best ways to get more hugs in return. This can include your spouse, children, and other family members along with close friends. But even if you're not currently in a life situation conducive to getting daily hugs and producing enough of your own oxytocin on a regular basis, the good news is there are some alternatives you can use to help you deal in a healthy way with your emotional response to stress and anxiety.
With the already known and still-to-emerge health and quality of life benefits to be derived from the natural release of oxytocin in your body, your best course of action is to make sure you're cultivating warm, loving, intimate relationships, no matter what stage of life you're in. Additionally, if you have a pet, just a few minutes petting your dog or cat can promote the release of your body's "happiness" hormones, including oxytocin. Since touch anywhere on your body, as well as positive interactions and psychological support, are known to increase oxytocin levels, you might also consider:
Chillot, R. (2013). The Power of Touch. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201303/the-power-touch
Forsell, L., & Åström, J. (2012). Meanings of Hugging: From Greeting Behavior to Touching Implications. Comprehensive Psychology, 1, 02.17.21.CP.1.13. https://doi.org/10.2466/02.17.21.CP.1.13
Freberg, L. (2006). Discovering biological psychology (2nd ed.). Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.
Grewen, K., Anderson, B., Girdler, S., & Light, K. (2003). Warm Partner Contact Is Related to Lower Cardiovascular Reactivity. Behavioral Medicine, 29(3), 123-130. https://doi.org/10.1080/08964280309596065
Hertenstein, M., Holmes, R., McCullough, M., & Keltner, D. (2009). The communication of emotion via touch. Emotion, 9(4), 566-573. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016108
Holt-Lunstad, J., Birmingham, W., & Light, K. (2008). Influence of a “Warm Touch” Support Enhancement Intervention Among Married Couples on Ambulatory Blood Pressure, Oxytocin, Alpha Amylase, and Cortisol. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(9), 976-985. https://doi.org/10.1097/psy.0b013e318187aef
Mercola, J. (2014). How Hugging Makes You Healthier and Happier. Retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/02/06/hugging.aspx
Richardson, J. (2014). 9 Reasons You Need To Be Giving and Receiving Hugs Everyday. Retrieved from http://preventdisease.com/news/14/012314_9-Reasons-Need-Giving-Receiving-Hugs-Everyday.shtml
Zhivotovskaya, E. (2012). Oxytocin: Go Out and Touch Someone. Retrieved from https://positivepsychologynews.com/news/emiliya-zhivotovskaya/2012032321636
Ayurveda offers insight into the earlier stages and enables those monitoring their health to take care of any small imbalances well before developing any serious illness. The length of the each stage may vary from weeks, to months, even years, depending on the person and the degree of aggravation.
The six stages of disease development are:
The first stage, accumulation, represents imbalance, a build up or collection of something in the body. Being exposed to and acquiring a pathogen via the external environment is an example of accumulation. This stage can also be caused by the internal environment, such as from eating an imbalanced diet leading to excess inflammation or mucous. Accumulation in the body leads to the the next stage, aggravation.
As the imbalanced elements continue to increase, the symptoms become more aggravated and will begin to be noticed throughout the body. This stage is a sign of continued accumulation. This stage can manifest, as seen in the Kapha state, as loss of appetite, indigestion, nausea, excess saliva, oversleeping, sluggishness; or as seen in the Pitta state, as increased acidity, burning sensations in the abdomen, lowered vitality, or insomnia; or as seen in the Vata state, as pain in the lower abdomen, excess flatulence, and light-headedness.
Once the site of origin is full with excess accumulation and is aggravated, it will begin to overflow into or disseminate throughout the rest of the body using different channels of transportation. Overflow typically begins in the GI tract, then spilling into the circulating plasma and blood, allowing the accumulation to spread systemically, and eventually seeping into the organs and tissues (dhātus). Simultaneously, the symptoms at the site of origin will grow worse.
The excess accumulation will then move to wherever a weak site exists in the body. This is where and when diseases begin to develop. This stage is also where genetics matter; the weak spots are determined by genetics - as the saying goes, genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger. This stage can manifest, as seen in the Vata state, as arthritis. In a Pitta state, this can be seen as an ulcer, and in the Kapha state, manifestation may begin in the lungs. At this stage, healing is still regarded as simple.
This is the first state of the development of illness for which modern Western medicine can detect signs of disease. It is at this stage where diseases progress and become fully developed, showing signs of clinical features. Manifested imbalances are given names at this stage, such as arthrosclerosis, cancer, colitis, etc. It is at this stage where conventional medicine attempts to mask the symptoms by offering pharmaceutical drugs.
Complications of the dis-ease begin at this final stage. Often times, conventional medicine attempts to solve the problem by simply removing the affected tissue (e.g., small intenstine, colon, thyroid, etc.) from the body. The symptoms become clear enough so that the elemental cause (i.e., dosha constitution such as Vata, Kapha, Pitta) may be determined. Some medical professionals describe this stage as the chronic phase of development. For example, if one develops inflammation in the manifestation stage, in this stage, complications set in, and the inflammation may grow worse into a chronic problem.
Being aware of the stages of the dis-ease process is helpful because one can gain a better understanding in how prevent, and perhaps even reverse, it. To be clear, the information provided here is not claiming to treat, cure or diagnose disease.
Cabral, S. (2018). The 6 Stages of the Disease Process (Ayurvedic Principle). [podcast] The Cabral Concept. Available at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/cabral-concept-by-stephen/id1071469441?mt=2
Tirtha, S. (2007). The Āyuveda encyclopedia. Bayville, NY. Ayurveda Holistic Center Press.
It's that time: time to test your blood. Most blood tests include a fasting lipid panel to assess one's risk of cardiovascular disease. A lipid panel is a test that measures fats and fatty substances used as a source of energy in the body. Lipids include cholesterol, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a powerful cardiovascular risk marker. Elevated triglyceride levels are a hallmark of too many carbohydrates in the diet.
60 percent of fructose is shunted toward the liver, where it is converted to triglycerides (which causes heart disease) (Gundry, 2017). In fact, fructose, which is the sugar found in most processed foods (often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup) can only be metabolized by your liver. If you eat a typical Western-style diet, you consume high amounts of it. The overload of fructose ends up damaging your liver in the same way alcohol and other toxins do (Mercola, 2017).
What about Cholesterol?
Our culture is obsessed with cholesterol levels, to the point that one in four adults in the U.S. take a statin drug to lower cholesterol levels. Nevertheless, elevated cholesterol levels are rarely a risk factor for heart disease, although elevated triglycerides clearly are. Fortunately, elevated triglycerides can easily be corrected and lowered to an ideal level of below 75 with the proper lifestyle interventions. The following tests can give you a far better assessment of your heart disease risk than your total cholesterol alone:
Influence of Triglycerides on Leptin
High triglyceride levels (over 100 mg/dL) is known to cause leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone located in fat cells, and like most hormones, it's function is complex. Leptin is tied to the coordination of our metabolic, hormonal, and behavioral response to starvation. Leptin essentially controls mammalian metabolism. Leptin decides whether to make us hungry and store more fat or burn fat. In other words, when your stomach is full, fat cells release leptin to tell your brain to stop eating. This is why people with low levels of leptin are prone to overeating.
One study observed participants with a 20 percent drop in leptin experienced a 24 percent increase in hunger and appetite, influencing their cravings for calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate foods, especially sweets, salty snacks, and starchy foods. The researchers discovered the drop in leptin was caused by sleep deprivation.
Leptin is also a pro-inflammatory molecule - it controls the creation of other inflammatory moleciles in your fat tissue throughout your body. This explains why overweight individuals are susceptible to inflammatory problems. Leptin is ranked highly on the body's chain of command, so imbalances tend to spiral downward and wreak havoc on virtually every system of the body beyond those directly controlled by leptin. Leptin, like insulin, is negatively influenced by carbohydrates. The more refined and processed the carbohydrate, the more imbalanced leptin levels become. When the body is overloaded and overwhelmed by substances that cause continuous surges in leptin, leptin receptors begin to turn off and you become leptin resistant. So even though leptin is now elevated, it doesn't work - it won't signal to your brain that you're full so you can stop eating.
Not a single drug or supplement can balance leptin levels. But better sleep, as well as better dietary choices will (Perlmutter, 2013).
Causes of High Triglycerides
The main culprit
Preventing cardiovascular disease involves reducing chronic inflammation in your body, and a proper diet is an absolute cornerstone. Although saturated fat has taken the blame for causing heart disease for the last several decades, the primary culprit in heart disease is sugar consumption.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that there is " a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for cardiovascular mortality." the 15-year study, which included data for 31,000 Americans, found that those who consumed 25 percent or more of their daily calories as added sugars were more than twice as likely to die form heart disease as those who got less than 10 percent of their calories from sugar. On the whole, the odds of dying from heart disease rose in tandem with the percentage of added sugar in the diet regardless of the age, sex, physical activity level, and body mass index (Dhurandhar & Thomas, 2014).
A 2014 study came to very similar conclusions. Here, those who consumed the most sugar - about 25 percent of their daily calories - were twice as likely to die form heart disease as those who limited their sugar intake to 7 percent of their total calories (Yang et al., 2013).
A 2013 study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, looked at the differing effects of high-fat diets versus low-fat diets on blood lipid levels. The study included 32 studies and found that high-fat diets resulted in significantly greater improvements in reductions of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides and benificial increases in HDL cholesterol (Schwingshackl et al., 2013).
How to Lower Triglycerides
Consider a Detox
The Dangers of Statins
So, why are we all obsessed with total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol when we know they aren’t the primary culprits for heart attacks? Because a multi-billion dollar drug industry exists behind the number-one best-selling class of drugs on the market: Statins.
Of course, the choice to take medications, if referred by your physician is, and should, always be your choice. However, you have the right to be fully informed of the side effects of consuming anything. With this in mind, it is important to be aware of the unintended side effects of taking statins.
A study published in Clinical Cardiology concluded that "Statin therapy is associated with decreased myocardial [heart muscle] function," which often leads to heart failure. The study did not address causes, but it's widely known that statins lower your CoQ10 levels by blocking the pathway involved in cholesterol production -- the same pathway by which Q10 is produced. Statins also reduce the blood cholesterol that transports CoQ10 and other fat-soluble antioxidants. The loss of CoQ10 leads to loss of cell energy and increased free radicals which, in turn, can further damage your mitochondrial DNA, effectively setting into motion an evil circle of increasing free radicals and mitochondrial damage (Mercola, 2011).
Moreover, for those at risk of heart disease taking statins who are unwilling or unable to bring down their cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels naturally with dietary changes, the potential for liver or muscle damage should be acknowledged. In addition, the potential for brain-related side effects, such as memory loss and confusion, as well as Parkinson’s-like symptoms is of concern. Statin drugs also appeared to increase the risk of stroke and developing diabetes. In 2013, a study of several thousand breast cancer patients reported that long-term use of statins may as much as double a woman's risk of invasive breast cancer.
There are 71 diseases that may be associated with these drugs, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are actually over 900 studies showing the risks of statin drugs, which include:
Plant-based diets have been shown to lower cholesterol just as effectively as first-line statin drugs, but without the risks. In fact, the "side effects" of healthy eating tend to be good - less cancer and diabetes risks and protection of the liver and brain (Gregor, 2015).
What Should you Eat?
Baker, A. (2012). What's the real driver of elevated cholesterol? hint: it's not saturated fat! - Nourish Holistic Nutrition. [online] Nourish Holistic Nutrition. Available at: nourishholisticnutrition.com/whats-the-real-driver-of-elevated-cholesterol/ [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].
Dhurandhar, N. and Thomas, D. (2015). The Link Between Dietary Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality. JAMA, 313(9), p.959. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2014.18267 [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].
Gregor, M. (2015) How Not to Die. London: Pan Books
Gundry, S. (2017). The Plant Paradox. New York, NY: Harper Wave
Hyman, M. (2016). 7 Ways to Optimize Cholesterol. [online] Dr. Mark Hyman. Available at: https://drhyman.com/blog/2016/01/14/7-ways-to-optimize-cholesterol/ [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].
Mercola, J. (2017). Fat for Fuel. Carlsbad, CA: Hayhouse Inc.
Mercola, J. (2011). New Study Shows Using Statins Actually Harms Heart Function. [online] Mercola.com. Available at: https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/06/22/new-study-show-using-statins-actually-worsens-your-heart-function.aspx [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].
Mercola, J. (2015). Conventional Heart Disease Advice May Make Matters Worse. [online] Mercola.com. Available at: https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/08/02/heart-disease-risk-factors.aspx [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].
Perlmutter, D (2013). Grain Brain. New York, NY: Little Brown
Ray, K. et al. (2010). Statins and All-Cause Mortality in High-Risk Primary Prevention. Archives of Internal Medicine, 170(12), p.1024. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2010.182 [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].
Rubinstein, J., Aloka, F. and Abela, G. (2009). Statin Therapy Decreases Myocardial Function as Evaluated Via Strain Imaging. Clinical Cardiology, 32(12), pp.684-689. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/clc.20644 [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].
Schwingshackl, S., et al. (2013). Comparison of Effects of Long-Term Low-Fat vs High-Fat Diets on Blood Lipid Levels in Overweight and Obese Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 113(12), pp. 1640-61. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.07.010 [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].
Wallerwellness.com. (2019). Understanding Triglycerides. [online] Available at: https://www.wallerwellness.com/health-and-aging/understanding-triglycerides [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].
Williams, J. (2017). How To Lower Dangerously High Triglyceride Levels. [online] Renegade Health. Available at: http://renegadehealth.com/blog/2017/03/31/how-to-lower-dangerously-high-triglycerides-levels [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].
Yang, Q., et al. (2014). Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(4), pp.516-24. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563 [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].
How saturated fat became an enemy
Despite food manufacturers claiming that refined vegetable oils were healthy, Americans experienced an up-rise in heart disease during the early 20th century. Like many new inventions, few questions were initially posited. Unfortunately, an alternate nutrient took the blame due to the research of a single scientist.
In 1951, American physiologist and professor Ancel Keys went to Europe in search of the cause of cardiovascular disease. In his quest, he went to observe the eating habits of individuals living Naples, Italy due to reports of a low prevalence of heart disease.
During this time, post-war conditions resulted in finite and unusual circumstances in regards to agriculture and infrastructure. Therefore what Keys perceived as a cultural tradition was dubbed the "Mediterranean diet".
Keys observed the residents in Naples consumed primarily pasta and plain pizza, with vegetables, olive oil, cheese, fruit for dessert, a moderate amount of wine, and very little meat (except among individuals belonging to a higher socioeconomic status).
Through an informal study measuring cholesterol serum levels among Rotary club members (those who could not afford meat, but could afford cheese) conducted by Keys's wife, whom at the time was a medical technologist, Keys deduced that avoiding meat resulted in a lower incidence of heart attacks.
Ancel Keys continued on his biased search for proof that a diet high in saturated fat is correlated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. He eventually compiled data from six more countries with high rates of heart disease and diets typically high in saturated fat. At first glance, Keys's research seemed logical and compelling. The evidence was based on the premise that individuals in America, who consumed high amounts of saturated fat, died from heart disease at a higher rate than individuals in Japan, who consumed low amounts of saturated fat.
Unfortunately, Keys had gained the interest of people in positions of power. Upon President Eisenhower's heart attack in 1955, Keys proposed his theory to the president's primary care physician, Paul Dudley White. Days following, White began to advise to the public to reduce the consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol in an effort to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Through his connections and influence, Keys soon joined the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association (AHA) which, based on Keys's research, released a report in 1961 that advised patients with a high risk of cardiovascular disease to reduce their consumption of saturated fat. (Interestingly enough, the AHA began its rise to prominence in 1948, the same year Proctor & Gamble donated over $1.7 million to the organization - resulting in the AHA indebted to Crisco.)
In 1961, Time magazine placed Ancel Keys on the front cover touting him as "the twenthiest century's most influential nutrition expert."
By 1970, Keys published the Seven Countries Study, which detailed his original research - this study has now been cited in over a million other scientific publications. While Keys associative observations between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease never proved causation, he had won the battle of public opinion.
With the help of Ancel Keys, the American medical community and mainstream media has advised consumers to stop eating the animal products that have been consumed for centuries, replacing them with bread, pasta, margarine, low-fat dairy, and vegetable oil. This was the dietary shift that was codified by the United States government in the late 1970s.
Central Committee for Medical And Community Program of the American Heart Association. (1961). Dietary Fat and Its Relation to Heart Attacks and Strokes. Circulation [online] 23, pp.133-36. Available at: https://circ.ahajournals.org/content/circulationaha/23/1/133.full.pdf [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019]
Keys, A. (1953). Atherosclerosis: A Problem in Newer Public Health. Journal of Mt. Sinai Hospital, [online] 20(2), pp.118-39.
Keys, A. (1970). Coronary Heart Disease in Seven Countries. Circulation. 41 (1), pp.1186-95.
Keys, A. (1995). Mediterranean Diet and Public Health: Personal Reflections. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, [online] 61 (6), pp.1321S-1323S. Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/61.6.1321s [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019]
Marvin, H. (1964). The 40 Year War on Heart Disease. New York: American Heart Association.
Mercola, J. (2017). Fat For Fuel. Carlsbad, California: Hay House.
Teichholz, N. (2014). The Big Fat Surprise. New York: Simon & Schuster, pp.32-33.
The Awareness domain contains research, news, information, observations, and ideas at the level of self in an effort to intellectualize health concepts.
The Lifestyle domain builds off intellectual concepts and offers practical applications.
Taking care of yourself is at the core of the other domains because the others depend on your health and wellness.