A new study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that holding hands with a loved one eases physical pain.
Researchers tested brain wave activity in 22 couples who had been together for at least one year.
First they measured brain waves while the couples were either sitting in separate rooms, or sitting together but not touching, or sitting together while holding hands.
Then they measured brain activity in the same three scenarios while the woman in the couple was subjected to mild heat pain on her arm.
The results were remarkable…
When the couples were together but not touching they began to mirror their partner. Their brain waves became synchronized. Their breathing and heart rates also fell into sync. It’s a phenomenon known as “interpersonal synchronization.”
But when the couples held hands, that synchronization shot up to the highest levels. And the pain the women felt was less.1
In other words, when you reach for the hand of a loved one in pain, your breathing, heart rate and brain waves will sync up and pain will go down.
The researchers also found that pain interrupted the synchronization if the couples could not hold hands. But when they touched, they synced up again.
I’m not surprised by these results. You see, healing touch is very powerful. It releases a hormone called oxytocin. You may have heard it called the “cuddle hormone.”
Oxytocin promotes bonds between parent and child and between men and women. But it can also make you feel more calm and optimistic, increase your pain threshold and speed healing.
Touch prompts your body to release oxytocin, so the more the better. Studies show that just a 15-minute massage can boost your oxytocin levels by 17%.2
Kisses, hugs, handshakes and pats on the back all work, too. But holding hands is the easiest way to boost your levels for pain relief.
And it certainly beats taking one of Big Pharma’s pain medicines.
Over the past 25 years, pharmaceutical companies have put on a big blitz to increase sales of its painkillers. They push doctors to prescribe drugs like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin for even minor pains.
And their marketing efforts have been wildly successful…
Today, 2.6 million Americans are hooked on opioid drugs. The CDC estimates that close to 50 people die of an opioid overdose every day in the U.S.3
But over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) aren’t much better.
They have dangerous and even deadly side effects. NSAIDs like Motrin, Advil and Aleve have been linked to kidney damage, anemia, heart palpitations and stomach bleeding. Ibuprofen now carries a black box warning about increased risks of heart attack and stroke.
Boost Your Body’s Love Drug Naturally
Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus region of the brain. Sadly, your supply starts to decline after you turn 40. But you can teach your body to produce more oxytocin naturally. Besides touch, here are three things I recommend to maximize your oxytocin levels.
1. Breathe it in. You can’t take an oxytocin pill. It breaks down too quickly in your stomach to work. Even an injection won’t last too long in your body. The only proven way to take oxytocin is by a nasal inhaler. Nasal oxytocin is completely safe. And it significantly increases oxytocin in the blood.4 You can purchase nasal inhalers online without a prescription. I recommend between 18 to 40 IU drops per day.
2. Sit in meditation. Research shows that even brief meditation sessions can make big changes in the areas of your brain that produce oxytocin. Here’s a simple routine you can try for yourself:
- Sit someplace comfortable and quiet, with your back straight but relaxed.
- Close your eyes and let your thoughts flow freely. You don’t have to empty your mind.
- Follow your breathing and try to sense any tension in your face. A furrowed eyebrow or a change in breathing cadence means you are getting stuck on a thought.
- The trick is to both let go of your thoughts and allow them to be there at the same time.
- Continue for 5 to 20 minutes.
3. Exert yourself. In a European study, researchers found that the more intensely you exercise, the more oxytocin you release.5 But a steady, hour-long run on a treadmill does nothing for oxytocin. That makes my PACE program perfect for boosting oxytocin.
Patients here at the Sears Institute for Anti-Aging Medicine have used PACE for years to reduce stress, increase oxytocin and tap into the energy of their youth. With PACE you incrementally and progressively increase the intensity of your workouts. And all it takes is about 12 minutes per day.
If you want to learn some great PACE exercises, go to my YouTube channel. I have more than 30 different exercises and a complete workout to get you started. Visit https://www.youtube.com/user/AlSearsMD/videos.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1. Goldstein P., et al. “Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction.” PNAS. February 26, 2018.
2. Morhenn V, Beavin LE, Zak PJ. “Massage increases oxytocin and reduces adrenocorticotropin hormone in humans.” Altern Ther Health Med. 2012 Nov-Dec.
3. “A grim tally soars: More than 50,000 overdose deaths in US.” Associated Press. December 9, 2016.
4. MacDonald E., et al. “A review of safety, side-effects and subjective reactions to intranasal oxytocin in human research.” Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011 Sep.
5. Hew-Butler T., et al. “Acute changes … unexpected increases in oxytocin and brain natriuretic peptide during exercise.” Eur J Endocrinol. 2008.