Have You Hugged Someone Today?

Do you get hugged?

Touch is so important for humans and animals alike.

Did you know that recent research from the Carnegie Mellon university, suggests that hugging is very important for emotional well-being?

 But how it is this even possible?

 When we hug, pressure receptors in our skin stimulate a nerve called the vagal nerve. This stimulates the release of a hormone called oxytocin. Now if you’re a Mumma, you may know about oxytocin as this is what gets your contractions going when you start labour, helps expel the afterbirth and also helps with the letdown of breast milk. But oxytocin’s other use is to help us bond – that’s why there is so much of it floating around when we have babies – it’s useful to fall in love at first sight with your little one.

Now I don’t want to say it’s just all about hormones (or is it!?)

 Oxytocin is also released at orgasm – helping us to feel closer to our sexual partner.

 All these activities help us bond and feel more loving and it is thanks to this oxytocin – better than any love potion ever created! Oxytocin has a trickle down effect in our bodies – reducing cortisol (that’s the stress hormone) and even our blood pressure and heart rate.

 Now think about our natural progression throughout life:

  •  We get lots of cuddles and hugs as a baby – and of course even ingest oxytocin through the breast milk
  • As we become toddlers, we hold our parents’ hands, sit on laps, get cuddles from grandparents and generally get loads of physical contact through the rough and tumble that is a family.
  •  At school, we make connections with friends who we hug and hold hands with.
  • As teens, we fall in love! Lots of hugging and physical contact here – we may even become sexually active and flood our systems with that love potion now.
  • We form long term relationships – we may even get married. This usually involves a far bit of physical contact as well – more oxytocin.
  • We have children and that love potion goes haywire – nothing quite like that feeling of seeing your newborn for the first time.
  • And so on it goes

….Until we grow old – in our modern society, the elderly are often not included as they are in many traditional cultures. Your partner may die (or you may get divorced/separated). You don’t see your children or grandchildren quite as much and all of a sudden, you feel lonely.

Have you ever wondered why old people like to reach out and touch you?
In traditional societies where the elderly are still considered valuable members of society and have regular contact with their families, they regularly live strong, active and useful lives well into their old age – even to the point of reaching 100+ years old.. they are called the Blue Zones of the world.

 And it’s being increasingly recognised. In countries, such as The Netherlands, old peoples’ homes are being built together with residential spaces for university students. In Seattle, U.S.A, they built one to interact with the local kindergarten. And the results are astounding: healthier, less fragile and more engaged elderly that require far less medical intervention than in other countries where this does not happen. Who would have thought!

 That’s why pets are so cool – because the same thing happens when we get hugged by our dogs or cats etc. In fact, in Canada, they are recognised as valuable companions and one cannot be refused a rental accommodation based on whether one has a pet or not – how cool is that?

And of course – it’s one of the reasons we have Chiquita as our clinic dog – she is incredibly amazing at reducing cortisol levels (she is sitting snug on my lap as I type this..)

 So, this Valentine’s Day, I hope that you get flowers and chocolates and all things nice from those you love, but consider those who won’t be and give out some hugs! It may be to your elderly neighbour, your grandma that you haven’t seen for ages or even the lady or elderly gent that you always see in the supermarket.

Hugs to you all xo


Naturopath, nutritionist