Counteracting Too Much Oxytocin
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Loneliness Takes a Toll on Health

I posted an article on Family Goes Strong, a new blog network I'm writing for, about two studies showing how a lack of social support -- scientist-speak for love, affection and friendship, all the oxytocin goodies -- correlates with higher blood pressure and more difficulty controlling diabetes.

The study by Louise Hawkley of University of Chicago compared people's self-reported experience of loneliness with the blood pressure, finding that less perceived support translated to rising blood pressure. Hawkley's work is in my book, and I've written about my visit to her lab

The second study, by Paul Ciechanowski of the University of Washington, correlated the ability to maintain general health in people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes to social support. It makes sense that having people around you who care about you would make it easier to do the good stuff, like exercising and taking your medicine, while avoiding the bad stuff, like eating too many carbs.

What I didn't mention in the Family Goes Strong article was the link I see between loneliness, the lack of oxytocin-based interactions, and high blood pressure. Oxytocin is the anti-cortisol; it lowers blood pressure and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for relaxation, rest and healing.

Hawkley's other studies have linked loneliness to higher cortisol levels, which are responsible for higher blood pressure and can lead to heart disease. You could also look at this state as not enough oxytocin.

Even those of us who are good at connecting may find ourselves in periods where we're far away from friends, family or lover. It's important in times of loneliness to remember to do lots of the other things that can activate the oxytocin system, including massage, cuddling with pets, group activities that put us in synch (limbic resonance) with others, even shaking hands.