Why Hugs Feel Good
Hi, I’m Dr. Marie Starling
At The Healing Center Denver, we help people like you reach their full potential.
I specialize in adjunctive care for internal disorders, autoimmune conditions, IBS, thyroid symptoms, diabetes, adrenal fatigue and other complex health issues.
By: Mary Beth Gudewicz, CNTP, MNT
You wake up and realize your alarm didn’t go off, you have to get the kids to school while getting yourself to work and that is just the beginning of your day. You meet a friend for lunch and she takes one look at you and then gives you a long hug. All of a sudden you feel calm. Ever wonder why? It’s because there is a physiological response that is triggered in our body when we are hugging or being hugged. Science has been researching what a hug does to our body, how it responds and the mechanisms involved.
The mechanisms involved in the body are the hormone oxytocin and the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Oxytocin is a hormone that is secreted by the pituitary gland and acts as a neuromodulator, a neuron that uses one or more neurotransmitters to regulate other neurons, in the brain. This hormone is secreted by the body during childbirth and in breastfeeding where it stimulates release of milk. This was thought to be its only function, but newer research has shown that it has many more effects such as improving social skills, fighting stress and encouraging trust. The skin contains Pacinian corpuscles, tiny egg-shaped pressure centers that can sense touch and are in contact with the brain through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of the cranial nerves that connects the brainstem to the abdomen and is connected to various organs including the heart. It is also connected to oxytocin receptors. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information examined 59 premenopausal women before and after warm contact with their husbands/partners ending in hugs and found higher oxytocin levels and lower resting blood pressure in the subjects. Here at The Healing Center we talk about neurotransmitters and two of the neurotransmitters stimulated during a hug are dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is involved in the reward centers of the brain and where stimulating drugs target. Serotonin contributes to feelings of happiness and well-being and it is important to optimize levels of these neurotransmitters.
Hugs have many benefits aside from increasing your oxytocin and lowering your blood pressure.
Additional benefits include:
- Helps relieve pain and raises our pain threshold
- Reduces social anxiety
- Lowers cortisol levels (benefitting the adrenals)
- Protects against inflammation and oxidative stress
- Increases social connection and sense of belonging
- Increases trust
- Feels good
- Dispels loneliness
- Builds self-esteem
- Slows aging
- Curbs appetite
- Eases tension
- Helps the immune system
The question becomes how long should you hug to enjoy these benefits? The ideal time is somewhere between 3 and 20 seconds with about 3 – 12 hugs per day.
A great way to start the day is with a hug. Hugs relax you, give you confidence, and make you happier and healthier. They give you that Zen moment in your day, are free and are essential to our overall physical health and well-being. This goes for both the person giving the hug and the one receiving. So take a moment today and give someone a hug.
“Neuromodulator.” TheFreeDictionary.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2015. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/neuromodulator.
Dobson, Roger. “Embrace Hugging: Daily Cuddles Can Combat Infections and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 10 Nov. 2012. Web. 24 Jan. 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2230972/Embrace-hugging-good-you.html.
KC, Light, Grewen KM, and Amico JA. “Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Dec. 2005. Web. 24 Jan. 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15740822.
“Hugs for Health – Healthsmart Exercise Physiology.” Healthsmart Exercise Physiology. N.p., 03 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2015. http://healthsmartep.com.au/hugs-for-health/.