Being touched by the beauty of nature, music, or art is certainly good for the soul. But new research shows these kinds of spiritual experiences are good for your physical health too.
Previous research has found that positive emotions can help balance the immune system. And now, a new study shows these emotions may also reduce inflammation—the culprit associated with everything from depression to diabetes.
The study is one of the first to discover the biochemical mechanisms by which positive emotions can improve health.1 The researchers conducted two experiments on more than 200 young adults in order to accomplish this study.
First, the study participants reported when they experienced emotions such as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love, or pride each day. Then, the researchers took samples of each person’s cheek and gum tissues, and measured the levels of cytokines in those tissues.
Cytokines are pro-inflammatory proteins that signal the immune system to boost its activity to help fight off an infection, virus, or other trauma. But too many cytokines result in chronic inflammation, which can lead to disorders like arthritis, Alzheimer’s, depression, diabetes, and heart disease—not to mention overall poor health.
The researchers found that the study participants with the highest levels of positive emotions also had the lowest levels of cytokines—as well as another marker of inflammation found in white blood cells.
The “feel good” prescription for better sleep, improved mood, even allergy relief
So, it appears that positive emotions can help stave off a host of chronic diseases. But they may also help with temporary symptoms as well.
Elevated cytokines and chronic inflammation in the brain also appear to block key hormones and neurotransmitters that influence appetite, memory, mood, and sleep.
So positive emotions have the potential for some far-reaching health benefits. For instance, it has long been said that people with seasonal allergies are also more likely to suffer from depression. Perhaps the effects of cytokines and chronic inflammation play a role in this association.
On page X, I talk about serious problems with drugs for seasonal allergies, and some natural alternatives. But don’t forget to try positive emotions as well. The next time your eyes start to water and your sinuses erupt, try not to “curse” the plants and trees. Instead, try to appreciate the beauty of Nature. It might help your allergies—and stave off chronic disease as well.
1”Positive effect and markers of inflammation: Discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines,” Emotion, epub ahead of print 1/19/15