How Being Kind Helps Your Immune System
In this post we talk about how being kind can boost the immune system but many more benefits are to be gained by simply choosing to do the kind thing.
Being kind not only makes the receiver of the kind act feel better and improve their health, it improves the health and wellbeing of the kindness giver and also those observing acts of kindness. It is the gift that keeps on giving and has come to be coined the Mother Theresa effect in the ‘industry’ following a study which measured antibodies in the subject’s saliva which were found to be elevated from simply watching images of Mother Theresa caring indiscriminately for others.
Dr. David Hamilton is a Scottish pharmacist turned author who passionately studies how the mind, emotions and behaviour has a profound effect on our body and development. Working within pharmaceutical research Dr. Hamilton became intensely interested in the mechanics of the placebo effect. He noticed that significant numbers of people were improving with ‘just the placebo effect‘. This phenomena was largely disregarded by the medical community as ‘they just THINK they’re getting better‘. But Dr. Hamilton decided to turn his attention to why the placebo effect was leading people to feel better and their condition to improve.
He explains that the brain actually produces endogenous opiates (natural painkillers) when given a substance which they are told and believe to make them feel better and significantly, the way that this is delivered, for example with empathy, affects the response positively. This results in REAL CHEMICAL CHANGES IN THE BRAIN.
It has been proven that patients who rate the empathy level of the medical staff treating them as high displayed a higher immune response than those rating the medical staff empathy level as low. HOW THEY WERE TREATED CHANGED THEIR BIO CHEMISTRY.
When we consider comforting and nurturing touch as an extension of kindness the research supports the theory (and what we instinctively know as human beings) that we all feel better and are less stressed when we extend kindness to one another.
Professor Francis McGlone is a specialist in Touch Research. He asserts that ‘ touch is not just a sentimental human indulgence, it’s a biological necessity’. His research has explored the body’s response to different types of touch and have found that unique systems are in place which distinguish those proprioceptors which tell us where the body is in space, for example, which allow us to pick things up, to climb stairs, to avoid hot things, and those which feed the emotional part of our brain and tell us, for example, that we’re ok, we’re safe.
These nerve fibres, which respond to nurturing touch are activated when we are stroked or cuddled. This stimulation increases the body’s release of oxytocin (a hormone) which lowers our blood pressure and heart rate and increases our immune response. Most of these are found in the upper back and shoulders (WHICH MIGHT HELP EXPLAIN WHY PEOPLE HAVING MASSAGE TO REDUCE STRESS AND TENSION RESPOND SO WELL TO BACK/NECK/SHOULDER TREATMENTS). In evolutionary terms these specific nerve fibres are very primitive which points to the necessity of social bonding dating back thousands of years. This was essential for our survival.
Dr. Hamilton talks a lot about oxytocin calling it the ‘hug drug‘. With increasing acts of kindness this hormone increases and he explains that the cardiovascular benefits of oxytocin come second only to increasing levels of physical activity. By contrast, people who display hostility and aggression are found to have lower levels of oxytocin and are more likely to have cardiovascular disease.
The receptor gene for oxytocin is so ‘old’ that it has integrated itself into many of the body’s systems, for example, growth of heart muscle. And lack of oxytocin can have profound effects on our development. Un-nurtured children can develop psycho-social dwarfism, a condition where they fail to reach their full genetic potential as nurturing touch was deprived at a crucial stage in the infant’s development.
We are wired to bond
The inter-relationship between our emotions, feelings, behaviour and physical state has been documented. One affects the other. If we are stressed and our body is holding stress/tension in clenched muscles, then release of that physical grip (through massage for example) can feed into our brain and tell us that the threat has been lifted and the body can stop producing adrenalin which is keeping the cycle of threat/response in place.
So the key message is DON’T GET STRESSED, GET KIND!
The final ‘take home’ from Dr. David Hamilton is this:
The 5 side effects of kindness are happiness, improved relationships, improved heart health, slower ageing process. And lastly, IT’S CONTAGIOUS, so go out and catch some!
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