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How Love Keeps You Healthy

By HealthLife Contributor
Updated: August 23, 2008
Movies celebrate it. Almost every popular song talks about the quest for it. Some people even describe it as a "natural high." No question about it: being in love feels good. Is it really any surprise then, to find that romantic love can improve your physical health as well?

Love: the ultimate immune system

Love can serve as a protective agent against certain disease processes. Although we are not yet certain how or why this is true, research supports the conclusion that excellent relationships contribute to excellent health. For example, women in marriages they described as "good" have much less heart disease than those who experience high levels of stress in their relationships. Married people not only have longer lives, but also have lower rates of heart disease, cancer and even communicable diseases, such as pneumonia, when compared to the same age that are not married.

We also know from research that love can help fortify the immune system. For example, in one study, patients with ovarian cancer who reported having strong community ties and pleasurable relationships had a substantially better tumor site immune response than other patients with ovarian cancer who did not have this type of support.

Perhaps because of this immune system response, strong emotional ties can also support good health, even in times of stress. In another study, spouses in marriages described as "pleasurable" were able to lower their blood pressure even during a 12 month period of job stress.
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Strengthening your trust hormones

It may be that the hormone oxytocin is partly responsible for some of these positive effects of strong relationships. Nicknamed the "trust hormone," its presence seems to have a strong influence on the ability of women to bond, and both men and women have much higher levels of the hormone in their bloodstreams immediately after orgasm. Oxytocin causes a relaxation response and can therefore lower blood pressure; it may be responsible for the decreased rates of breast cancer in women who have breastfed.

Some of the best news about oxytocin is that it may be summoned, almost at will. When couples were instructed to sit close to one another, talk and then hug, they experienced immediate decreases in blood pressure. When this behavior was continued over time, women especially showed sustained improvement in their blood pressure nearly the same as if they had taken the best prescription blood pressure medications.

Making love to a healthier body

Some of the positive health benefits from romantic relationships are likely related to frequency and regularity of sexual activity. Besides the obvious subjective benefits (that is, pleasure) of sex, research shows that physical intimacy is an important factor in sustaining health for the long term. For example, one study revealed than men who had sex at least twice a week were half as likely to have a lethal heart attack than men who did not. Well regarded research also indicates that frequent ejaculation may be a protective factor against developing prostate cancer. Yong adults who have sex more than once or twice a week demonstrate higher levels of important immune system antibodies than their peers who had sex less than this.

If you are thinking that your relationship cannot possibly be providing these benefits, there is even good news for you! Recent research indicated that spouses can be trained to be more supportive even during periods of life and health crisis. For example, in a study of couples who were dealing with a partner's breast cancer diagnosis; one group was given coaching to help develop emotional support skills. Another group was not given this coaching. The wives of the spouses who were given the additional help had better outcomes, specifically less distress and depression, than the control group.
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