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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How hugs can aid women's hearts

Women's heart health may benefit more from hugs than men's, a study suggests.

A team from the University of North Carolina studied the effects of hugging on both partners in 38 couples.

The study showed hugs increased levels of oxytocin, a "bonding" hormone, and reduced blood pressure - which cuts the risk of heart disease.

But, writing in the Psychosomatic Medicine, the researchers said women recorded greater reductions in blood pressure than men after their hugs.

During the study, the men and women were taken to separate rooms to test their blood pressure and levels of oxytocin, which is released during childbirth and breastfeeding, and cortisol, a stress hormone.

The couples were then reunited and asked to sit together and talk about a time when they were particularly happy.

They then watched five minutes of a romantic film before being left to talk to each other for a further 10 minutes.

Next, the couples were asked to hug for 20 seconds.

Protection

Both men and women were seen to have higher levels of oxytocin after the hug.

People in loving relationships were found to have higher levels of the hormone than others.

But the study also found all women had reduced levels of cortisol following the hug, as well as reporting the blood pressure benefits.

The researchers, led by psychologist Dr Karen Grewen, wrote in Psychosomatic Medicine: "Greater partner support is linked to higher oxytocin levels for both men and women.

"However, the importance of oxytocin and its potentially cardioprotective effects may be greater for women."

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, spokesperson for the British Heart Foundation, said: "Scientists are increasingly interested in the possibility that positive emotions can be good for your health.

"This study has reinforced research findings that support from a partner, in this case a hug from a loved one, can have beneficial effects on heart health."

She added: "British Heart Foundation researchers have already demonstrated links between a positive emotional state, such as happiness, and low levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

"This growing body of research only goes to highlight how important social support is for everyone, not just those in a relationship."


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