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Research suggests that there is more to cuddling than meets the eye. The benefits of cuddling go beyond just feeling nice, it is fantastic for improving our health and well-being.
As well as making us feel great physically, cuddling causes the release of oxytocin, a hormone produced in the brain which makes you feel good and creates a sense of well being and happiness.
Oxytocin is a neuropeptide (a chemical released in the brain) which is secreted by the pituitary gland. More commonly associated with new mothers as it helps with labour and the secretion of breast milk, it also has a number of other functions and benefits for both sexes. So what can oxytocin do for us?
Oxytocin is known as the feel good hormone because it increases overall happiness and well being and is easy to get simply by hugging someone, shaking their hand or stroking your pet. This act of bodily contact releases low levels of oxytocin.
When you next cuddle up to someone, take a deep breath and let it go. You will notice your pulse rate decrease, your breathing slows down and you begin to relax. As the oxytocin levels increase they have an affect upon or fight/flight hormones and allow our blood pressure to drop.
When you are in love, it feels like nothing can hurt you. That’s probably the oxytocin talking. The same goes for the release of oxytocin during childbirth. When you stub your toe on the door frame you rub it to ease the pain. This self stimulation triggers a release of oxytocin and helps to relieve the pain.
Oxytocin has been found to reduce cortisol, a stress hormone released in response to a fight/flight situation but not beneficial to have high levels all the time. Oxytocin, found in the intestinal tract improves gut motility and reduces intestinal inflammation, also aids digestion, often disrupted by increased stress levels.
When you cuddle up to your partner you get close in the physical sense which can lead to playful sex or enjoying post coital hugging. It also releases dopamine, a hormone which increases sexual desire. Many studies show that sex is beneficial for health, fitness and mental well-being too. Studies have found that oxytocin levels increase after female sexual stimulation and are attributed to nipple/areola stimulation (similar to that when a baby is being breast fed) and genital stimulation. When sexually aroused, oxytocin levels increase significantly, a main factor in achieving an orgasm, which in turn, causes the release of more oxytocin.
Studies have shown that oxytocin can make you more generous because it is connected to feelings of empathy. One study showed that when asked to share money with a stranger, those who received infusions of oxytocin were 80% more likely to share their money than those who just received the placebo.
When our brains release oxytocin, we tend to have a better outlook on life. It increases our self esteem and makes us more trusting of others. Studies have shown that it can be effective in treating intense shyness and people suffering from social anxieties and mood disorders, such as autism and post traumatic stress disorder.
Studies have shown that mothers suffering with post natal depression have a lower level of oxytocin than normal and prenatal levels of oxytocin can indicate if a mother may develop depression after the birth of her baby.
Research has found that oxytocin and oxytocin receptor deficient mice gained weight eating a normal food intake but returned to their normal weight when giving oxytocin infusions, a factor which could help those struggling to lose weight.
Getting the benefits of oxytocin is not just confined to those in relationships. Single people can gain the health benefits too by petting their dog or cat, hugging a friend, having a warm bath or getting a massage.
So make yourself or someone else feel better today and give them a cuddle, the benefits are numerous!