Paging Dr. Frischer - Hugging

"Hugging is a miracle. Hugging is all-natural; it is organic, naturally sweet, no pesticides, non-fattening, no carbohydrates, no preservatives, no artificial or genetically engineered ingredients, and 100% wholesome.Hugging is virtually perfect. There are no batteries to wear out, no periodic checkups, low energy consumption, high energy yield, inflation-proof, no monthly payments, no insurance requirements, theft-proof, non-taxable, non-polluting, money back guarantee can be included and last, but not least fully returnable." - Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD I couldn't have said it better. So, it's pretty clear that hugging is free, natural and a fully reusable resource, and by the way, it feels good, too. But what does real science have to say? One theory is that a hug re-creates the squeezing we all felt as babies in the womb - the ultimate place of security. The hug takes us back to the very beginning of life when we knew no fear, no hardship, and no threats. Numerous studies have shown how important hugs are for babies and children. Without physical contact, infants fail to thrive. Touch and hugs are needed for basic positive emotions to develop. Touch affects the brain in the region of the cerebella, the likely location of trust and affection. Further, studies have shown that a hug and ten minutes of handholding with a romantic partner greatly reduce the harmful physical effects of stress, according to a study by the American Psychosomatic Society. Studies appear to show that loving contact before a tough day of work may carry a protective effect all day on both heart rate and blood pressure. Perhaps these findings explain one reason why lonely people tend to have poorer health in general. Other studies indicate that when couples hug for 20 seconds, their levels of the hormone oxytocin increase. Oxytocin decreases the heart rate as well as the force of contraction of the heart, which are both positive health effects. Interestingly, oxytocin appears to be a chemical indicator of positive social interaction. In addition to hugs, elevations of oxytocin are associated with massage, warm touch, and even a pleasant conversation. Another hormone, cortisol, is sometimes referred to as the stress hormone. Studies show that cortisol levels fall after hugging, along with blood pressure. Studies have actually attempted to quantify an optimal number of hugs! One recommendation calls for at least four hugs a day for healthy survival, eight hugs a day for emotional strength, and 12 hugs a day to grow and be empowered. Perhaps we can agree here that hard scientific data does not exist. In its absence, my suggestion is to simply hug as much as possible! •Start by giving those you love a healthy hug today •Include more hugs in your daily routine •Ask yourself whose day you could give a boost by giving a hug •Be respectful of those who do not like their personal space invaded •Do not consult your physician first before proceeding to give hugs. You already have my permission. As always I wish you good health and a day filled with hugs. Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and current chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.

********** Published: October 9, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 25