What are The Health Benefits of being Social?

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Humans are born into social groups and live their entire lives as a part of society, so the social element can’t easily be removed from the evolution of an individual. But how does social contact affect our health?

We are social beings, and interacting with people is in our nature. But it also brings us benefits on a mental and physical level.
As human beings, we dream, learn, grow, and work as part of society. The society that we’re born into and the societies that we navigate throughout our lives shape our personal identities.

And in fact, so keen are we to communicate with each other — even beyond geographical limitations — that we’ve developed a plethora of tools to help us achieve that, including pen and paper, telegraph, telephone, and the Internet.

When I asked my colleagues in the Medical News Today office what benefits — if any — they thought that they derived from social connection, most of them said that they found some measure of comfort in social interaction.

Some colleagues said that they enjoyed the shared experiences, whereas others explained that friends kept them motivated to do “some healthful activities from time to time.” Others said that being around friends helped them to “destress and put things into perspective.”

Even the most introverted among us crave social contact from time to time. But why is that, and does being social bring us any actual health benefits?

In this Spotlight, we investigate why humans thrive in society, and how social interaction impacts our mental and physical well-being.

Why are we a social species?
It may be intuitive to say that being social has helped our species to not only survive but also thrive over millions of years. But why is that so?

A study from 2011, which was published in the journal Nature, argues that being social became a key strength for the primate ancestors of humans when they switched from foraging for food by night (so that they could use darkness as a shield) to carrying out their activities by day (which rendered them more vulnerable to a wider range of predators).

Another more recent study — also in the journal Nature — suggests that early hominids may have evolved a basic form of language because they needed more advanced communication to share ideas. This, they say, helped our ancestors to develop tools that allowed them to live better and evolve further.

Researchers have also suggested that humans are innately compassionate beings, and that our compassion and empathy have served us well — since the capacity to care and share is highly valued by individuals looking for a mate.

After all, in order for a species to survive, its members have to not only procreate, but also be able to shield their offspring from harm and shield peers from injury, so that they can derive strength from collaboration in the face of adversity.

‘Face-to-face contact is like a vaccine’
Psychologist Susan Pinker states that direct person-to-person contact triggers parts of our nervous system that release a “cocktail” of neurotransmitters tasked with regulating our response to stress and anxiety.

In other words, when we communicate with people face-to-face, it could help to make us more resilient to stress factors in the long run.

“Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply […] shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.”

She adds that, as a result of social interaction, “dopamine is [also] generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain, it’s like a naturally produced morphine.”

This idea is corroborated by the findings of a study covered by MNT last year, which concluded that the touch of a romantic partner can actually help to relieve physical pain.

Another study from last year showed that those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer tend to fare better if they have access to social support and interaction, suggesting that just by being around family, friends, or peers going through similar experiences can strengthen us both mentally and physically.

Social motivation and brain power
Research has shown that by interacting with others, we actually train our brains. Social motivation and social contact can help to improve memory formation and recall and protects the brain from neurodegenerative diseases.

When we learn with the purpose of sharing our knowledge with others, we learn better.
Prof. Matthew Lieberman — from the University of California, Los Angeles — specializes in the mechanics of what he calls our “social brain,” which is the neural activity related to social interaction, and the brain benefits that are afforded by it.

He has seen, for instance, that “if you learn in order to teach someone else, then you learn better than if you learn in order to take a test.”

This goes against the prominent beliefs in modern educational systems, in which learning on one’s own, for the sake of accumulating knowledge and skills, is typically preferred.

Instead, however, Prof. Lieberman notes that “when you’re socially motivated to learn, the social brain can do the learning and it can do it better than the analytical network that you typically activate when you try to memorize.”

A study published last year also found that maintaining close friendships later in life could help to prevent mental decline.

The research — led by scientists at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL — found that “SuperAgers,” defined as people aged 80 and above but who have the mental agility of much younger people, appear to have one thing in common: close friends.

“While both SuperAgers and [their peers with average cognitive performance] endorsed high levels of psychological well-being,” explain the authors, “SuperAgers endorsed greater levels of positive social relationships than their cognitively average-for-age peers.”

Sex talk: 5 Myths You Need to Drop

Everyone’s heard their fair share of sex myths, especially during their teenage years. Unfortunately, though, some myths might persist well into adulthood, affecting the way we relate to our sexual lives. Here, we debunk some of the most widespread misconceptions about sex.

Sex myths — we’re better off without them, we say, so here we debunk five of the top contenders in this category.
“When did you pop your cherry?” “You’ll go blind if you masturbate!” “Oh, and maybe put your sex life on the back-burner if you want to wow your colleagues at next month’s sports event.” Do these phrases sound familiar?

Well, we’re here to look at the facts on these and other myths about quality time in the bedroom — and we don’t mean sleep.

So sit back, relax, and learn why you should try to stop worrying so much about apocryphal “facts” about sex.

  1. Popping the cherry
    This is the age-old belief that a woman’s hymen is a good place to look to if you desire to know whether she’s still a virgin — or, at least, if she has engaged in vaginal intercourse.

But although much significance is attached to the hymen as an alleged marker of virginity in many cultures, the truth is that more often than not, it can’t tell us much about a woman’s sexual history.

The hymen is a membrane that lines the opening of the vagina, and its actual shape and size varies from person to person. Normally, it does not cover the vaginal opening entirely — which makes absolute sense, since otherwise menstrual and other discharge would not be able to leave the vagina.

In fact, some of us are even born without a hymen.

In the rare cases wherein the hymen does cover the entire vaginal opening — this is a congenital condition called imperforate hymen — surgery is carried out to perforate it and allow vaginal discharge to pass out of the body.

While vaginal intercourse or some more strenuous physical activities could cause minor hymen tearing, many women do not experience any tearing or bleeding during sex, as the hymen can stretch to accommodate the penis.

Even if tearing does occur, bleeding doesn’t always follow. And because hymens can have myriad different shapes, it will be incredibly difficult to tell whether that “dip” in the membrane is due to a minor rupture or whether it was there all along.

  1. Menstruation as ultimate baby barrier
    Another favorite piece of sex lore is that women can’t get pregnant if they have sex while on their period. It’s true that this scenario is highly unlikely, but even so, the possibility of pregnancy isn’t fully eliminated.

The likelihood of becoming pregnant after period sex depends largely on how long your menstrual cycle is. In most women, the menstrual cycle lasts for approximately 28 days. Usually, 3– 5 of those days are taken up by their period, during which unfertilized eggs, or “ovules,” and uterine lining are eliminated.

Women are most fertile during the ovulation stage of their menstrual cycles, when fresh eggs are produced. Ovulation usually takes place about 12 to 16 days before the start of the next period.

Some women, however, have shorter cycles, which means that their ovulation stage also happens earlier.

That, coupled with the fact that sperm can live inside the human body for up to 5 days, means that if the timing is right, sperm could hang out inside the female body for just long enough to survive the period and penetrate a fresh egg.

So, if you do plan to ease those menstrual cramps by having sex, you may wish to consider using a condom.

  1. It’s not an orgasm if it’s not vaginal
    Perhaps thanks to the supersexed ideal spread by commercial porn, many people are stuck for a long time with the idea that a woman’s orgasm is purely a vaginal experience, achieved through repeated penetration.

A quick look on the Internet will reveal that some popular searches include, “Why can’t I orgasm?” and “Why can’t I make my girlfriend climax?”

Well, as Medical News Today explained in a longer piece, there is no “one-size-fits-all” recipe for achieving orgasm, and very often, women will require clitoral stimulation, instead of just vaginal penetration, to reach that sweet spot.

For some, penetration doesn’t cut it at all, and clitoral stimulation alone is their stairway to heaven.

In fact, according to Essentials of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, of the women who reach sexual climax, “25 percent […] achieve orgasm with penetrative sex and 75 percent need extra clitoral stimulation.”

That’s why both men and women would do well to learn as much as possible about their and their partners’ bodies and try to understand what makes them tick individually.

  1. Masturbation is bad for you
    This bring us to our next item, which is that masturbation, somehow, is bad for you. There are, in fact, many myths related to masturbation: that it can make a man go blind; that it can lead to erectile dysfunction; and that it can cause sexual dysfunction in women.

Don’t worry, masturbating won’t hurt you, and you may want to take your sweet time while you’re at it.
In case there were still any doubts, there are absolutely no links between your genitals and your eyes, so try as you might, you won’t lose the gift of vision just by exploring your nether bits sometimes.

In fact, specialists argue that there’s no such thing as masturbating too often, and that it actually brings a plethora of health benefits, including released tension, eased menstrual cramps, and, no less importantly, a “roadmap for [the] body,” as sex therapist Teesha Morgan said in a TED talk.

She added that, for women, this roadmap learned through masturbation helps them to more readily achieve an orgasm; they become better-equipped to solicit the kind of attention that best works for them.

As for the notion that frequent masturbation can cause erectile dysfunction, Morgan explained that it, too, is a false concern. However, she added that what could happen in some cases is that a man may become used to a certain practices — for instance, “quickies” — that could then take over in partnered sex, as well, with unwanted results.

“Let’s say, as a man, every single time you masturbate you only give yourself a few minutes from first touch to ejaculation. That may condition you to those few minutes, so when you’re with a partner and you want to last longer, that may create problems for you.”

A good way to prevent this from happening, explains Morgan, is to “make your practice and your play as similar as possible,” which may involve actually spending a little more quality time with yourself, rather than rushing through things.

  1. Sex affects athletic performance
    It seems intuitive, doesn’t it, that engaging in exercise that might be somewhat demanding, such as sex, will decrease your stamina, so you probably shouldn’t play at this game right before running an important marathon.

For years, the managers and coaches of top sports performers have forbidden their athletes to indulge in steamy action before important events, for fear that their performance would be weakened.

You’ll be relieved to find out, then, that that’s not really the case at all. Recent studies show that having sex the day before participating in a sports competition doesn’t affect performance.

Still, researchers point out that further investigations should still be conducted — regarding the potential psychological effects of sex when it comes to athletic performance, for example.

One editorial addressing the question of sports performance following intercourse suggests that, depending on individual psychological resilience, sex might alter the state of mind of an athlete before a competition.

“If athletes are too anxious and restless the night before an event,” the authors write, “then sex may be a relaxing distraction. If they are already relaxed or, like some athletes, have little interest in sex the night before a big competition, then a good night’s sleep is all they need.”

Long story short, there is no evidence that a little consensual sex “match” is anything but good for you — just learn what works for your body, stay safe at all times, and if something you’ve heard or read about sex sounds fishy, fact-check it against a credible source.

Hugs and Kisses: The Health Impact of Affective Touch

There are a number of good reasons that touching, hugging, and kissing the people we love feels comforting and reassuring. In this Spotlight, we will explore how such displays of affection impact your health and well-being.

What are the benefits of affective touch? In this Spotlight, we investigate.
When we touch, hug, or kiss a friend or partner, that gesture is loaded with meaning.

We seek affection, try to establish a connection, or attempt to communicate a need.

Various cultures use touch in various ways to display tenderness or respect, and other non-human primates use it to create a connection and establish social hierarchies.

Recently, however, some experts have expressed concern that Western societies are experiencing a moment of crisis, as physical touch becomes more strictly regulated and we are less and less likely to engage in social acts such as hugging.

Of course, physical touch is not always welcome and not always appropriate. Between strangers, it can be an act of violation.

As researchers from Finland noted in a study paper published last year, whether touch produces a positive or a negative effect is highly dependent on the context in which it occurs.

“Touch does not universally lead to positive emotions,” they explain. For instance, they note that “cultural differences can result in touch being construed as a breach of preferred interpersonal distance.”

At the same time, research has also found that touch is important for humans when it comes to communicating emotions and maintaining relationships — both romantic and otherwise.

In this Spotlight feature, we will look at the importance and benefits of touching, hugging, and kissing for a person’s health and well-being.

Why touch is so important
Famous studies have demonstrated that children — as well as the infants of non-human primates — who grow up without affective touch have severe developmental issues and are unable to relate socially.

Touch is a vital social cue, signaling an offer of comfort and empathy.
Touching, and being touched, activate particular areas of our brain, thus influencing our thought processes, reactions, and even physiological responses.

For example, one study reports that brain scans have revealed that affective touch activates the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region associated with learning and decision-making as well as with emotional and social behaviors.

Certain experiments have also suggested that romantic kissing is an important tool — particularly for women — when it comes to choosing a partner, because the personalized chemical cocktail found in an individual’s saliva conveys important information to the brain about their physiological compatibility.

Touch can also be reassuring and calming for a person in distress, since it can communicate an offer of support and empathy.

A study from Sweden — the findings of which were published last year in the journal Research on Language and Social Interaction — found that embracing and patting children in distress has a soothing effect for them.

In such a circumstance, the study authors explain, the interaction involves the adult signaling that they are available to offer soothing contact, followed by the child’s acknowledgement of this invitation and positive response to it.

The interaction and coordination involved with this scenario allow the child in distress to regain a sense of security and reassurance.

As a result of this, there are also many debates surrounding the use of touch during counseling, mainly asking whether the potential benefits outweigh the ethical perils.

Scientists recognize that touch has valuable therapeutic potential and that some people might benefit from receiving a reassuring pat on the shoulder when they are feeling down.

Psychological benefits
In fact, we seek to receive and give hugs to people we love precisely because they trigger a neural pattern of comfort and affection.

Studies have shown that sharing a hug can remove existential anxiety.
A study found that women who offered physical touch as a symbol of support to their partners showed higher activity in the ventral striatum, which is a brain area involved in the reward system.

So, offering a reassuring hug to a person who is in pain or feeling down can actually benefit both the receiver and the giver; both people involved in the interaction experience more positive emotions and feel more strongly connected to each other.

Moreover, a series of studies conducted by Dutch researchers showed that hugging could relieve a person’s feelings of existential fear and remove self-doubt.

“Even fleeting and seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch may help people to deal more effectively with existential concern,” says researcher Sander Koole, from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

“Our findings show that even touching an inanimate object — such as a teddy bear — can soothe existential fears. Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance.”

Other research has revealed that sharing in the nonverbal communication of affection — which includes actions such as hugging and kissing — can buffer the effect of stress and accelerate recovery from it.

Benefits for health
The benefits of affective touch expand to measures of physical health as well as mental health and social relations.

One study published in 2014 in the journal Psychological Science suggested that the stress buffer provided by shared hugs actually has a protective effect against respiratory infections.

Also, among the people who did become ill, those who received emotional support in the form of affective touches showed less severe symptoms of infection.

Other studies showed that, in romantic couples where the partners share frequent hugs, women tend to have lower blood pressure and heart rates, which suggests that this type of contact can benefit the heart literally, not just metaphorically.

Romantic kisses also help boost the immune system, research has demonstrated. When we kiss, we transfer “80 million bacteria per intimate kiss of 10 [seconds],” scientists report.

This may sound disgusting, but it is beneficial; this microbial exchange acts almost like a vaccine, familiarizing the immune system with potential new bacterial threats and strengthening its effectiveness against a more varied array of pathogens.

Touch as a painkiller
Finally, touch is very effective when it comes to relieving physical pain. Massage therapies can be a great way of soothing all kinds of aches, from headaches to back pain.

Touching someone you love can actually soothe physical pain.
However, you do not necessarily have to go to a massage parlour in order to experience the pain-soothing benefits of touch.

Holding hands with your partner will suffice, say two studies published in two consecutive years, both of which were covered on Medical News Today.

The first study — which appeared in the journal Scientific Reports in 2017 — showed that if two partners touch and one of them experiences mild pain, the touch actually diminishes the sensation of pain.

In the second study — featured earlier this year in the journal PNAS — the team observed the same effect in groups of young couples when they were holding hands.

“Our findings,” the study authors report, “indicate that hand holding during pain administration increases brain-to-brain coupling in a network that mainly involves the central regions of the pain target and the right hemisphere of the pain observer.”

Wherever we’re from, touch is likely an important marker of affection. In the eighteenth century, the famous English poet John Keats wrote, “Touch has a memory.” Research has now proven that this evocative poetic image has a scientific basis: touch does have a memory, as it turns out.

A study led by neuroscientists from the Charité — Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany has shown that not only can our bodies remember touch, but they can also remember several different types of touch simultaneously.

“A new touch does not erase the memory of a previous touch from working memory,” explains that study’s lead researcher.

“Rather,” he goes on, “new and old tactile memories can persist independently of each another, once a person’s attention has registered the touches.”

It seems that touch has a more powerful impact on our brains and our bodies than we might have imagined, so it is important to be fully aware of how something as simple as a hug can alter our own, and others’, perception of the world.

What are The Adverse Effects of Love?

Many people see love as the pinnacle of human existence, and some equate it with happiness itself. But sometimes, being “lovesick” can feel exactly like that — an illness. In fact, romantic love can bring about many adverse psychological effects, and in this Spotlight feature, we take a look at what they are.

Love is not always an all-round positive, happy feeling.
On Valentine’s day, people around the world dwell on the positive and beautiful aspects of romantic love. They celebrate the value that this unique feeling brings to human existence and the central role it plays in our search for happiness.

Furthermore, science shows that the neurophysiological benefits of being in love are numerous. A few years ago, we wrote a Spotlight feature on the positive health effects that being in a relationship brings.

From relieving pain, lowering blood pressure, easing stress, and generally improving one’s cardiovascular health, love and being in a relationship have associations with a wide range of health benefits.

But if love was nothing more than positive feelings, warming sensations, and feel-good chemicals, we probably would not apply words such as “smitten” or “lovesick” to describe the intense effects of this emotion.

On this Valentine’s day, we decided to focus our attention on some of the less exhilarating — and sometimes even debilitating — psychological effects of romantic love.

Love and the stress hormone
Being in love triggers a cocktail of chemicals in the brain. Some of the hormones — which also act as neurotransmitters — that the body releases when we’re infatuated can have a soothing effect.

For example, people have dubbed oxytocin as “the love hormone” because the body releases it during sex or physical touch. Neuroscientific evidence also shows that it lowers stress and anxiety.

But levels of oxytocin only start to increase considerably after the first year of love. The neurotransmitter helps to solidify long-term relationships, but what happens in the early stages of love?

A small but influential study that researchers carried out more than a decade ago compared people who had recently fallen in love with people who were in long-lasting relationships or single.

Standard evaluations of various hormones revealed that people who had fallen in love in the previous 6 months had much higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When researchers tested the participants again 12–24 months later, their cortisol levels were back to normal.

The higher levels of cortisol released by the brain in the first 6 months of love are “suggestive of the ‘stressful’ and arousing conditions associated with the initiation of a social contact,” the researchers concluded.

High cortisol levels can impair the immune system and lead to a higher risk of infections. It also raises the likelihood of developing hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Excessive cortisol can impair brain function, memory, and some have suggested it may even reduce brain volume.

In her book, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, she defines limerence as an involuntary, enormously intense, and overwhelmingly passionate state in which the “limerent” person can feel obsessed with and emotionally dependent on the object of their limerence.

“To be in the state of limerence is to feel what is usually termed ‘being in love,’” the author writes. However, her nuanced account of the feeling distinguishes between limerence, love, and sex. “[L]ove and sex can coexist without limerence, in fact […] any of the three may exist without the others,” she writes.

Tennov lists several components, or signs, of limerence. These include:

“intrusive thinking about the object of your passionate desire”
“acute longing for reciprocation”
dependence on the actions of the object of your limerence, or rather, on the possibility that they might reciprocate your feelings
an inability to have limerent feelings towards more than one person at a time
an intense fear of rejection
“sometimes incapacitating but always unsettling shyness” in the presence of your limerent object
“intensification through adversity,” meaning that the more difficult it is to consume the feeling, the more intense it becomes
“an aching of the ‘heart’ (a region in the center front of the chest) when uncertainty is strong”
“buoyancy (a feeling of walking on air) when reciprocation seems evident”
an intensity of the feeling and narrow focus on the limerent object that makes other concerns and activities pale by comparison
“a remarkable ability to emphasize what is truly admirable in [the limerent object] and to avoid dwelling on the negative”
So, is limerence healthful? In Tennov’s account, the many negative aspects of limerence have not received the attention they deserve.

Limerence has associations with many “tragic situations,” she says, including intended “‘accidents’ (much fantasy involves situations in which the limerent gets an injury and [the limerent object] is ‘sorry’), outright suicide (often with note left behind to [the limerent object]), divorce, homicide, and a host of ‘minor’ side effects” that she documents in her book.

Furthermore, in retrospect, people who have experienced limerence report feelings of self-hatred and tend to berate themselves for not having been able to shake off the uncontrollable feeling.

Tennov’s book is filled with many strategies that limerents have tried — more or less successfully — to rid themselves of the feeling, including journaling, focusing on the limerent object’s flaws, or seeing a therapist.

How Relationships Benefit Body and Mind

“All you need is love,” sang the Beatles. When one considers the widely documented health benefits of being in a happy relationship, they might have been on to something. In this spotlight, we take a look at the health reasons for celebrating being with someone.

Research has demonstrated a myriad of health benefits – physical, mental and emotional – associated with being in an affectionate relationship.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, many people fortunate enough to find themselves in relationships will be preparing for a day of celebration. The health conscious may look at boxes of chocolates and meals in restaurants warily, but it is worth remembering that outside of these indulgences, a wealth of health benefits have been identified for people in relationships.

Many will be aware that sex is a form of exercise, increasing the heart rate and reaching an average peak at orgasm comparable to forms of light exercise, such as walking upstairs. It is also fine for people with heart disease to have sex, so long as they can still do equivalent activities (such as walking up two flights of stairs) without experiencing chest pain.

Outside of this, though, several other health benefits arise from being in a relationship. And being in a loving relationship is not simply a bed of roses; different types of relationship have their own effects. We investigate.

Put a little love in your heart
The heart is one of the most conspicuous symbols of love, and perhaps it is unsurprising that love is associated both literally and figuratively with one the most important organs in the human body. With February being American Heart Month, it seems prudent to examine the less obvious benefits to the heart first.

Research has indicated that being in a satisfying relationship can lead to improved survival rates after coronary bypass surgery – an aggressive treatment for heart disease. The effects of satisfaction were reported to be just as important to survival as traditional risk factors, such as obesity and tobacco use.

This finding may have been due to happy relationships encouraging healthful behavior, such as quitting smoking and keeping fit.

Less active displays of intimacy than sex can also be beneficial to cardiovascular health. One study found that couples holding hands for 10 minutes followed by a 20-second hug had healthier reactions to a public speaking task than participants who merely rested quietly.

The couples that had brief warm social and physical contact exhibited lower heart rates, lower blood pressure and smaller increases in heart rate, with results comparable for men and women.

“These findings suggest that affectionate relationships with a supportive partner may contribute to lower reactivity to stressful life events,” write the authors. The implication from the study is that affectionate relationships could be related to better cardiovascular health.

Hypertension can be dangerous, leading to serious conditions including heart failure, stroke and heart attack. Research has also found that it can increase the risk of cognitive decline later in life. However, lowering blood pressure is not the only aspect of being in a relationship that benefits cognitive functioning.

Always on your mind
Sex has also been found by researchers to improve mental health. A small study of 46 men and women suggested that like other forms of physical activity, sex reduces levels of stress.

Researchers conducted stress tests involving acts such as doing mental arithmetic out loud, finding that people who had sex coped better with stress than participants that had no sex at all.

A person’s sense of well-being can also be improved by sex. A much larger study of 3,000 people aged 57-85 demonstrated that those who were having sex rated their health much more favorably than those who were not.

In this study, it was not just sex that led to improved well-being, but being in a satisfying relationship overall. The researchers found that participants in close relationships were more likely to report they were in “excellent” or “very good” health, rather than merely “good” or “poor.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, thinking positively in this manner could lead to further health benefits, including reductions in the risk of the following:

Common cold
Depression
Distress
Overall mortality.
Dr. Larry J. Young, of Emory University in Atlanta, GA, told Medical News Today that the benefits to health and well-being that come from being in a relationship are best understood from seeing what happens when a relationship is lost, either by death or splitting up:

“Loss of a loved one (e.g. spouse or romantic partner) leads to an increase in mortality, immune suppression, cardiovascular disease and depression.”

Love is not the same for everyone
It should be pointed out that no one seems to experience love in precisely the same way as everyone else. We are all drawn to different kinds of people and expect many different things from a relationship. It should not be surprising, for this reason, that the health implications of love also vary.

Could levels of affection and attachment style determine the health benefits couples receive from their relationship?
Recently, MNT reported on a study investigating the effects of attachment style on pain relief. Adult attachment style refers to patterns exhibited by individuals in relationships related to how they seek or avoid closeness.

Typically, the presence of a partner in a painful situation would be considered comforting and a relief, yet this was not the case for every participant in the research.

In a small study of 39 women, “moderately painful” laser pulses were administered to the participants’ fingers while their romantic partner was present and then absent. The authors found that the more women were avoidant of closeness in their relationships, the more pain they experienced when their partner was present.

The authors concluded that “partner presence may not have beneficial effects on the experience of pain when the individual in pain is characterized by higher attachment avoidance.” The presence of others may disrupt the preferred method of coping with “the threat value of pain” for such individuals.

For the women reporting high closeness with their partner, it may be oxytocin – a hormone sometimes referred to as “the love hormone” – that could be responsible for their experiencing reduced levels of pain.

Lead author Dr. Charlotte Krahé told MNT they believed that oxytocin might be part of a neurobiological mechanism involved in shaping the effects of interacting with close others on the pain experience.

Oxytocin has been associated by researchers with parts of the brain that are involved in emotional, cognitive and social behaviors. Acts of intimacy, such as sexual intercourse, holding hands and looking into another person’s eyes, stimulate the release of oxytocin in men and women. The hormone is produced in larger amounts in mothers when they are giving birth or nursing.

In an article published in Nature, Dr. Young suggests that long-term bonding between mates may be regulated by the same mechanisms as those involved in maternal bonding.

Oxytocin “interacts with the reward and reinforcement system driven by the neurotransmitter dopamine – the same circuitry that drugs such as nicotine, cocaine and heroin act on in humans to produce euphoria and addiction,” he writes.

“I think this is the only reason that we do hug and touch each other all the time. I think this is the mechanism that keeps oxytocin levels high in relationships,” says Dr. Rene Hurlemann, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Bonn in Germany.

Addicted to love, and then withdrawal
“We have evidence that it is the withdrawal from oxytocin after social loss that leads to the depressive side effects, at least based on our studies in monogamous prairie voles,” Dr. Young told MNT.

A study of nuns has demonstrated that romantic relationships and sex are not required for good health and long life.
In a paper published in Psychopharmacology in 2012, Dr. Young and James P. Burkett reviewed research on drug addiction alongside research on social attachments. “The psychology of human love and drug addiction share powerful overlaps at virtually every level of the addictive process, from initial encounters to withdrawal,” the authors conclude.

Oxytocin was found to play a modulatory role in many aspects of drug addiction, along with additional roles in the processing of memories and information involved in social attachment.

The association between oxytocin and addiction was explored further last year in research conducted by the University of Adelaide in Australia. The study suggested that poor development of oxytocin during early childhood could explain why some individuals succumb to addictive behavior.

Dr. Young and Burkett state that the overlaps in the psychology of human love and drug addiction suggest that forms of treatment for one domain may be effective in another. “[For] instance, treatments used to reduce drug cravings may be effective in treating grief from the loss of a loved one or a bad breakup,” they write.

These findings suggest that further research into the neurobiological mechanisms of love could reveal ways in which its positive healthful effects could be brought to people that find themselves without it.

Not all doom and gloom for single people
Single people can feel quite downhearted around Valentine’s Day, being surrounded by people experiencing a joy that, at that moment in time, eludes them. Reading about these examples of health benefits for happy and affectionate couples may well contribute toward to this.

It is not all doom and gloom for single people, however. Research has found that having a good network of friends can have many of the same positive effects as being in a relationship.

One study of 1,500 people aged over 70 found that participants who reported having strong friendship groups tended to live longer than people with fewer friends. The authors suggested that this finding could be due to friends having a positive influence on lifestyle choices.

Despite all the health benefits that sex provides, research has also demonstrated that a life of celibacy can also be one that is long and healthy. A longitudinal study of 678 nuns aged 75-107 found many participants maintaining an active lifestyle and demonstrating strong cognitive function well into old age.

So, while there is much to celebrate about being in a relationship around Valentine’s Day, it is by no means the be-all-end-all, especially when looking from a health perspective. Good health and long life can be enjoyed by anyone, no matter what their relationship status is.