by Emily Courtney – Love comes in many forms: the love between
friends, spouses, partners, relatives, and even between pets and their owners can be a transformative and amazingly fulfilling experience.
But, did you know that love can actually improve your health, both physically and emotionally? It’s true—research shows that love in all its splendor can put you on the road to health and happiness.
From how you give and receive love to the ways you express affection, it turns out that this remarkable emotion can enrich your life and benefit your well-being beyond just making you feel warm and fuzzy.
Here are four ways love can vastly improve your health:
1. Love Reduces Stress
We all know how a hug from a loved one at the end of a stressful day can instantly make us feel better, and now research tells us why. You see, stress can negatively affect your hormones, heart rate, and blood pressure, but in one study of 59 premenopausal women, frequent hugs were linked with balanced blood pressure and higher oxytocin levels, the “cuddle” hormone associated with snuggling and bonding.1
In another study of married couples, holding hands with a spouse significantly reduced stress from anticipated electrical shocks when compared to holding hands with a stranger or with no one at all. And, spouses in the happiest, most loving marriages reported the most stress relief from hand holding.2
And it’s not just non-verbal touching that can be a stress buster—verbal expressions of affection (like saying “I love you”) and supportive affection (like listening to each other) are also associated with lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.3
2. Love Boosts Immune Health
Love and affection can increase levels of Immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody found in mucous membranes—such as the membrane lining the gastrointestinal tract—that fights antigens in the body. In one trial, adults who had sexual encounters 1-2 times per week had significantly higher salivary levels of IgA than those who reported less intimacy.4
Fortunately, sexual activity isn’t the only way to increase your levels of immune-boosting IgA—simply spending time with your pet can also do wonders for your immune function. In fact, researchers discovered that 19 college students who spent just 18 minutes petting a dog showed significant increases in IgA levels when compared to 36 other students who either petted a stuffed dog or sat alone on a couch.5
Kissing also benefits your immune system, and it has everything to do with your microbiome. Scientists studied 21 couples to identify how intimate kissing affected their oral microbiota. It turns out that each 10 second kiss corresponded to a transfer of 80 million bacteria between partners—bacteria that can help bolster immune function! And, couples who engaged in intimate kissing nine or more times a day had similar oral microbiomes, enabling them to fight off similar harmful microbes they may encounter or transfer between each other.6
3. Love Relieves Pain
Feelings of love can influence your brain in such a way that you experience reduced sensitivity to pain, much like opioid pain relievers that trigger your brain’s reward centers. In one study of 15 college students in the first nine months of a romantic relationship, looking at a photo of their girlfriend or boyfriend significantly reduced self-reported thermal (heat-induced) pain in comparison to looking at a photo of an acquaintance or using distraction techniques.7
In another similar study, 25 women in long-term relationships experienced more pain reduction from holding their partner’s hand and from looking at their partner’s photo than from holding a stranger’s hand, holding an object, or viewing photos of an object.8
4. Love Extends Your Life
Studies show that a loving social network full of friends can not only contribute to your quality of life—it can help you live longer. In a meta-analysis of more than 148 studies with over 300,000 participants, those with the strongest social relationships had 50% increased longevity rates over those who didn’t have strong social networks.9
If your social network doesn’t feel up to par, don’t worry: just meditating on love can slow down the aging process. Researchers discovered that people who practiced Loving-Kindness Meditation—which focuses on kindness and warmth towards others—had longer telomeres, the segments of DNA that control aging.10 Shorter than average telomeres have been associated with accelerated aging and a shorter lifespan, so the longer, the better!
Love Your Gut, Love Your Life
Not surprisingly, your gut benefits from feelings of love as well! This is because all of love’s wonderful effects help to nurture and support your life-enhancing gut microbiome—the ecosystem of trillions of bacteria residing in your digestive tract.
Love’s ability to reduce stress, which can take a big toll on your body’s beneficial bacteria, helps to keep the good guys in the majority. And what about the boost to your immune system when you experience love and affection? Because 80% of your immune system (and the vast majority of your body’s microbes) resides in your gut, anything that supports your immune function will help your friendly flora fight off harmful bacteria that can make you feel under the weather.
But, it’s a two way street! Because your mighty microbiome is responsible for supporting so many important functions in your body—like maintaining a positive mood, supporting your memory, helping you absorb nutrients, and keeping your metabolism humming—it’s hard (dare we say impossible!) to fully experience the benefits of love if your gut is out of whack.
So, as you focus on nurturing and enjoying all the many sources of love in your life, make sure you are also taking these steps to love your gut for vibrant and lasting health and happiness:
• Take a daily, multi-strain probiotic formula like PRO-15 to replenish your beneficial bacteria and help keep your microbiome in balance.
• Eat a whole food diet rich in plant-based prebiotics to help all those gut probiotics thrive so they can work hard on your behalf. Also, consider taking an organic prebiotic powder supplement to really support your populations of beneficial bacteria.
• Avoid things that deplete the friendly flora in your body, like stress, antibiotics, antibacterial cleaners, processed foods, and overzealous hygiene habits.
• Keep moving. An active body keeps your microbiome healthy, so pick an activity that you and your loved one enjoy together and go for it!
If there’s one thing the world always needs more of, it’s love. Not only can love change your life for the better every single time you’re fortunate enough to give or receive it, but research shows that it can make you and your loved ones healthier. So, as you tuck your child into bed tonight, give your partner a welcome home kiss, or meditate on loving kindness, remember that every ounce of love you share has the power to improve someone’s long-term health—now that’s a gift worth giving!
1. Light, K. C., Grewen, K. M., & Amico, J. A. (2005). More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women.Biological Psychology, 69(1), 5-21. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2004.11.002
2. Coan, J. A., Schaefer, H. S., & Davidson, R. J. (2006). Lending a Hand: Social Regulation of the Neural Response to Threat. Psychological Science, 17(12), 1032-1039. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01832.x
3. Floyd, K., & Riforgiate, S. (2008). Affectionate Communication Received from Spouses Predicts Stress Hormone Levels in Healthy Adults. Communication Monographs, 75(4), 351-368. doi:10.1080/03637750802512371
4. Charnetski, C. J., & Brennan, F. X. (2004). Sexual Frequency and Salivary Immunoglobulin A (IgA)1. Psychological Reports, 94(3), 839-844. doi:10.2466/pr0.94.3.839-844
5. Charnetski, C. J. (2004). Effect Of Petting A Dog On Immune System Function. Psychological Reports, 95(7), 1087. doi:10.2466/pr0.95.7.1087-1091
6. Kort, R., Caspers, M., Graaf, A. V., Egmond, W. V., Keijser, B., & Roeselers, G. (2014). Shaping the oral microbiota through intimate kissing. Microbiome, 2(1), 41. doi:10.1186/2049-2618-2-41
7. Younger, J., Aron, A., Parke, S., Chatterjee, N., & Mackey, S. (2010). Viewing Pictures of a Romantic Partner Reduces Experimental Pain: Involvement of Neural Reward Systems. PLoS ONE, 5(10). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013309
8. Master, S. L., Eisenberger, N. I., Taylor, S. E., Naliboff, B. D., Shirinyan, D., & Lieberman, M. D. (2009). A Picture’s Worth: Partner Photographs Reduce Experimentally Induced Pain. Psychological Science, 20(11), 1316-1318. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02444.x
9. Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Medicine, 7(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316
10. Hoge, E. A., Chen, M. M., Orr, E., Metcalf, C. A., Fischer, L. E., Pollack, M. H., . . . Simon, N. M. (2013). Loving-Kindness Meditation practice associated with longer telomeres in women. Brain,Behavior, and Immunity, 32, 159-163. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2013.04.005