Monthly Archives: February 2013
Burn Fat and Control Appetite With Cayenne Pepper
Lightning in a (Spice) Bottle — What It Is
Photo by Jess Ivy
The hot and spicy taste of cayenne pepper comes from capsaicin — but that’s not all it does. Capsaicin is known to boost metabolism. One study found that capsaicin (and green tea!) can actually suppress appetite and help reduce the amount of energy (aka calories) we take in. Research suggests that the compounds body heat-generating powers can cause metabolic rate (aka energy use) to increase to such a degree that it may even aid with weight loss (though more research is definitely needed to confirm these benefits). Other studies suggest capsaicin can also increase fat oxidation, allowing the body to better use fat as fuel .
Add Some Pep(per) To Your Step — What It Means To You
But don’t just down spices and expect the pounds to melt away. The amount of capsaicin in cayenne is relatively small, so that metabolic boost won’t last for longer than a few hours . However, the spice’s appetite suppressant powers can last a little longer. It turns out the capsaicin in readily-edible amounts of spice might be enough to help cut cravings for fatty, salty, and sweet foods. Muy muy caliente!
Eater beware: This hot item comes with some words of caution. Cayenne pepper can decrease the effectiveness of some common medications like aspirin, blood thinning drugs, and antacids. People with latex, banana, avocado, kiwi, or chestnut allergies may also be allergic to cayenne pepper
How quickly and easily you can sit down on the floor and then get up may give you a hint about how long you’ll live. A study from Brazil published in the November 1, 2012 European Journal of Preventive Cardiology looked at how adept some 2,002 men and women ages 51 to 80 were at performing these moves. We know that aerobic fitness correlates with a longer life span, but this study suggests that flexibility, muscle strength, balance and co-ordination are also important factors in determining longevity. Study leader Claudio Gil Araújo, Ph.D., explained that “if a middle-aged or older man or woman can sit and rise from the floor using just one hand – or even better without the help of a hand – they are not only in the higher quartile of musculoskeletal fitness but their survival prognosis is probably better than that of those unable to do so.” The study showed that each additional support needed to sit down on the floor and then get up – hand, forearm, knee, side of leg, or hand on the knee – was associated with a 21 percent lower chance of survival over the approximately six years of the study’s follow-up.
My take? This interesting study points up the benefits of remaining physically fit as we get older. At any age, an exercise program should contain three elements: aerobic activity (such as walking, swimming or biking) for cardiovascular fitness, resistance training to maintain muscle strength (which declines by about 15 percent per decade during one’s 60s and 70s) and exercises to increase flexibility and balance, which can help prevent falls as you age – and may help you sit down on the floor and then get up with little or no support. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that seniors perform resistance training workouts at least two days a week. For flexibility, I recommend stretching classes, yoga or Pilates, a conditioning system that increases both core strength and flexibility. I also highly recommend tai chi, which promotes flexibility, balance, and good body awareness.
Simply getting an extra hour or so of shuteye might help lower your blood pressure. A study published online on November 22, 2012 by the Journal of Sleep Research suggested that individuals with high blood pressure or prehypertension could bring their pressure down if they got an extra hour of sleep per night. The study was small (only 22 patients participated), but it indicated that an extra hour of sleep at night could make a significant difference in blood pressure, particularly for patients who habitually get seven or less hours of sleep a night. Patients were assigned to one of two groups. The first group was instructed to sleep one hour more than they usually did, while the second group was told only to go to bed at the same time every night. The investigators reported that participants who added an hour to their nightly sleep lowered their blood pressure significantly. Blood pressure also dropped among those who went to bed at the same time every night, but the change wasn’t deemed significant. The findings are considered preliminary because of the study’s small size, but the researchers said that more research along these lines might show that increased sleep is an effective strategy in the treatment of hypertension.
Study finds a link between a static life and health strife
The four horsemen of forgetfulness
Consider the most likely causes of memory slips before assuming the worst. You may just need more sleep.
Worried that you’re getting more forgetful lately? Ironically, worry itself can trigger memory slips. Stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep deprivation are the four horsemen of forgetfulness in aging brains. It might take a conversation with your doctor to pinpoint the cause of your memory slips—especially if the change is sudden or uncharacteristic. “If it’s worse than it was a few months ago, or somebody is asking you about it, that would definitely be something to see a doctor about,” says Dr. Anne Fabiny, chief of geriatrics at Cambridge Health Alliance and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
If you consult a medical reference on possible causes of memory loss, you’ll find an assortment of possibilities—from brain tumors and infections to syphilis and migraine headaches. But hiding among them are a few ordinary causes that are worth serious consideration.
Alcohol: Having more than the recommended number of daily drinks can contribute to memory loss. For men, the recommended limit is no more than two standard drinks per day, defined as 1.5 ounces (1 shot glass) of 80-proof spirits, a 5-ounce serving of table wine, or a 12-ounce serving of beer.
Medications: Tranquilizers, certain antidepressants, and some blood pressure drugs can affect memory by causing sedation or confusion, which interfere with your ability to pay close attention to new things. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you suspect that a new medication is taking the edge off your memory.
Thyroid disorder: Faltering thyroid hormone levels could affect memory as well as cause sleep disturbance and depression, which both contribute to memory slips. Although thyroid function is usually not the cause, your doctor may want to rule it out.
Stress and anxiety
For older adults, disturbances in mood are among the most common causes of memory problems. The cause of the problem could be an illness in the family—or something with more positive overtones, like moving to a new home. In either case, the new life stressor can make it harder for you to keep on top of things.
Stress and anxiety affect memory because they make it harder for you to concentrate and lock new information and skills into memory. You may end up forgetting something simply because you were not really paying attention or had too much on your mind.
The symptoms of depression often include forgetfulness. Most people think of depression as a stifling sadness, lack of drive, and lessening of pleasure in things that you ordinarily enjoyed. But the signs can change with aging.
“Depression in older people often presents with physical symptoms,” Dr. Fabiny explains. “People don’t come in and say they are really depressed. They say my shoulder hurts, I have a headache, I have stomach pains, I don’t sleep very well.”
Lack of restful, high-quality sleep is perhaps the greatest unappreciated cause of memory slips. Sleeplessness can become more of an issue with aging. “Older adults spend less time in the deep stages of sleep, which are the most restful,” Dr. Fabiny says. “As a result, they may not feel as rested upon awakening in the morning because they haven’t slept well.”
Lack of restful sleep can also trigger mood changes. Anxiety is one possibility. “It’s not uncommon for people to become anxious because they can’t sleep, or to not sleep well because they are anxious,” Dr. Fabiny says. “Both can leave you in the same place.”
When to seek help
If you think you are sleep deprived, see a doctor about it. Don’t succumb to the myth that older people need fewer hours of slumber, Dr. Fabiny says. “If you were a nine-hour-a-night sleeper when you were 29, you will still be when you are 79. But sleep quality may change with aging.” You may wake more often, for example, and find it more difficult to get back to sleep.
It can also help your memory to give your brain a break. “As you get older, it may become more difficult to maintain a high level of attention for several things at once,” Dr. Fabiny says. “Dividing your attention can definitely cause you to think you are having memory problems.”
Finally, remember that fatigue which interferes with memory—and life in general—is not normal. Inadequately treated pain, sleep disorders, or
low thyroid hormone levels in your blood could be at the root of a pooped-out and forgetful demeanor. “If you are feeling fatigued or lacking in energy, it’s important to have a conversation with your doctor,” Dr. Fabiny says. “It’s possible that an existing medical problem needs more attention or that an evaluation�for a new condition is warranted.”
1 February 2013, 2.32pm AEST
PMS is real and denying its existence harms women
A recent opinion piece in the Fairfax papers – based on a Conversation article – discussed “the theory that (PMS) is all in women’s minds as opposed to their endocrinology …” Why is this debate from the 1970s about whether or not PMS is “just an excuse” that women use for their anger resurfacing now…
A recent opinion piece in the Fairfax papers – based on a Conversation article – discussed “the theory that (PMS) is all in women’s minds as opposed to their endocrinology …” Why is this debate from the 1970s about whether or not PMS is “just an excuse” that women use for their anger resurfacing now?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a broad term used to describe the physical and psychological symptoms experienced by some women prior to menstruation. The term was first coined by British doctor Katharina Dalton in 1957, and her clinic successfully treated many women over 40 years.
The issue has resurfaced because of a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto. The authors did a meta-analysis of 41 studies, concluding
Taken together, these studies failed to provide clear evidence in support of the existence of a specific premenstrual negative mood syndrome in the general population. This puzzlingly widespread belief needs challenging, as it perpetuates negative concepts linking female reproduction with negative emotionality.
So, why has this study taken us all the way back to a debate that should have finished ages ago?
There are two main reasons. First, many opinions about the existence of PMS are fuelled by personal philosophy and politics, rather than by reason and good research.
Over the centuries, women have had to cope with dismissive views about their anger, depression or capabilities, and being labelled as “irrational” during “that time of the month”. In the 1970s, feminists fought hard against the concept of hormone influences on women’s behaviour in their struggle to achieve equality for women. It was important back then to dismiss women’s biology as the only determining factor of her life.
Today, we don’t have to take the view that women’s biology, including their hormone profiles, are unimportant. We can reclaim biology and integrate it with the psychological plus social contexts to see that PMS does exist and does cause real suffering for many women.
Second, a vast body of neuroscience work is being ignored. The evidence (from many studies) about the integration of hormones with mental processes is now well established.
Recent brain research has demonstrated the powerful influence that hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone have on brain chemistry, which underpins emotion, mood and behaviour. It is uninformed to write off these potent brain hormones as only “reproductive”, since they have many roles in brain development and ongoing mental function.
The Canadian study assumes that all women universally respond to cyclical hormone changes in the same way, and at the same time of each cycle. There are vast differences in individuals’ mental health changes in response to shifts in the complex array of hormones. Some women are very mentally sensitive to hormone changes, while others are not.
Some women suffer from physical and mental disorders that become worse cyclically – migraines and epilepsy are well-accepted examples. Every disorder has a biological, psychological and social context. It is just that with many physical illnesses, there’s the capacity to actually see the tissue damage, or measure markers of the illness, while mental disorders are difficult to measure or visualise in the same way.
This leaves debates about the existence of certain conditions, such as PMS, open to ideologically-motivated opinions rather than evidence-based realities.
In addition to a lack of neuroscientific understanding, the current PMS debate is defined by a lack of consideration for social context. The argument by Jane Ussher in this publication in her article about the study (and quoted in the Fairfax opinion piece) that PMS is a “Western” woman’s disorder fails to take into account that mental health disorders are not given a priority in some cultures where there are many other battles to contend with.
The recent spate of stories about the difficulties in reporting rape in India is testimony to the level of gender inequality in certain parts of the world. So it’s not surprising that non-life-threatening conditions, such as PMS, are given little consideration in some non-Western countries.
Rejecting the existence of PMS leads to increased hardship for women. Added to her burden of distressing symptoms is the frustration and pain of invalidation, and pejorative comments of disbelief about her cyclical mood or other symptoms. Women with severe PMS want and deserve validation and understanding of their condition.
One argument put up by those wishing to deny the existence of PMS is that medicalising PMS leads to harm and stigma. This erroneous belief is based on the supposition that medicalisation means that (male) doctors will force harmful, ineffective treatments upon passive, uninformed, powerless women.
Patient empowerment through knowledge is a major part of health care, and there are many sources of information about PMS available to women. There are also many different treatments, including combinations of hormone treatments (both natural and synthetic types), healthy lifestyle approaches and psychological interventions. Good PMS management involves comprehensive collaboration between the woman and her doctor, and an integrated treatment approach.
Happily, we are approaching an era of individualised medicine, where each person’s biological, psychological and social context can be taken into consideration. With rapidly accumulating scientific knowledge about the role of hormones in the brain and on behaviour, we are in a better place to listen to and discuss their concerns and issues with women, while taking the role of cyclical hormone changes into account.
Let’s leave the tired old debates of the 1970s in the past and aim for better integration of biology with psychology and the social context. Because that’s where real help and hope lies for many women.
|Exercises for pain free handsYour hands perform countless small and large tasks each day — from pouring coffee, brushing teeth, and buttoning shirts to raking leaves or kneading bread.
But aching hands can transform the simplest task into a painful ordeal. Hands can hurt for a variety of reasons, from the mechanical to the neurological. Arthritis — which affects one in five American adults — and other persistent joint problems are by far the most common cause of hand pain and disability.
There are many ways — including medications and surgery — to get hands back to work. One of the most important ways is through therapeutic exercises.
Some exercises help increase a joint’s range of motion, while strengthening muscles around the joint. Some commonly recommended hand exercises follow. If you have a serious hand, wrist, or arm injury, consult your doctor before leaping into the routines below. All exercises should be done slowly and deliberately, to avoid pain and injury. If you feel numbness or pain during or after exercising, stop and consult a therapist.
Stretching helps lengthen muscles and tendons. Some repetitive tasks, such as typing on a computer or gripping gardening tools, can shorten muscles and leave them tight and painful. Do these stretches gently, until you feel the stretch, but without pain. Hold the positions for a count of 15 to 30 seconds to get the most benefit. These exercises are particularly helpful for tendinitis and tight forearm muscles, which are common in people who do a lot of computer work.
For each of these exercises, do a set of four repetitions, twice a day. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds between each repetition.
These exercises work muscles against resistance. Hold each position for 10 seconds. Complete one set of 10 repetitions once or twice a day.
Isometric wrist flexion
Follow the same steps as above, but with your palm facing up.
For more information on the causes and treatment of hand pain, and strengthening strategies for hands, buy Hands: Strategies for Strong, Pain-Free Hands by Harvard Medical School.
Vaginal Health: Insights, Views & Attitudes (VIVA) – results from an international survey.
Research Center for Reproductive Medicine, Gynecological Endocrinology and Menopause Unit, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, IRCCS ‘S Matteo Foundation’, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.
To assess knowledge of vaginal atrophy among women using the Vaginal Health: Insights, Views & Attitudes (VIVA) survey.
A structured online questionnaire was used to obtain information from 3520 postmenopausal women aged 55-65 years living in Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway.
In total, 45% of women reported experiencing vaginal symptoms. Only 4% of women attributed these symptoms to vaginal atrophy, and 63% failed to recognize vaginal atrophy as a chronic condition. Overall, 44% of respondents did not have a gynecologist, but this percentage varied between countries. Most women (75%) felt that vaginal atrophy had a negative impact on life, but this perception also showed country-specific differences. Most Finnish respondents (76%) were satisfied with the amount of information available about vaginal atrophy, compared with just 37-42% of women from other countries. Most women used over-the-counter products for vaginal atrophy symptoms, but specific means of treating the underlying cause were less well known. Almost half (46%) of all respondents lacked knowledge about local estrogen therapy, with women in Great Britain, the United States and Canada being most likely to lack knowledge of such treatment. Overall, 30% of women would consider taking local estrogen therapy, with vaginal tablets being the preferred option in all countries.
Postmenopausal women have a low understanding of vaginal atrophy. Medical practitioners should proactively raise this topic, help patients to understand that vaginal atrophy is a chronic condition, and discuss treatment options. Country-specific approaches may be required.
Vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) is a common and underreported condition associated with decreased estrogenization of the vaginal tissue. Symptoms include dryness, irritation, soreness, and dyspareunia with urinary frequency, urgency, and urge incontinence. It can occur at any time in a woman’s life cycle, although more commonly in the postmenopausal phase, during which the prevalence is close to 50%. Clinical findings include the presence of pale and dry vulvovaginal mucosa with petechiae. Vaginal rugae(ridges, folds) disappear, and the cervix may become flush with the vaginal wall. A vaginal pH of 4.6 or more supports the diagnosis of VVA. Even while taking systemic estrogen, 10% to 20% of women may still have residual VVA symptoms. Breast cancer treatment increases the prevalence of VVA because the surgical, endocrine, and chemotherapeutic agents used in its treatment can cause or exacerbate VVA. Local estrogen treatment for this group of women remains controversial.
AI = aromatase inhibitor; CI = confidence interval; ER = estrogen receptor; HT = hormone therapy; SERM = selective ER modulator; VMI = vaginal maturation index; VVA = vulvovaginal atrophy
Vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) is a common condition, especially in postmenopausal women. Vaginal atrophy, atrophic vaginitis, and urogenital atrophy are other terms used to describe this constellation of symptoms associated with decreased estrogenization of the vulvovaginal tissue. Although treatment with topical estrogen is effective in alleviating symptoms, women frequently do not report symptoms and thus go untreated.
Common symptoms include vaginal dryness, irritation, postcoital bleeding, and soreness. These symptoms may be associated with vaginal discharge and dyspareunia. Urinary symptoms associated with VVA include frequency, urgency, and urge incontinence.
Vulvovaginal atrophy can occur at any time in a woman’s life cycle, although it is more common in the postmenopausal phase, a time of hypoestrogenism. Other causes of a hypoestrogenic state include lactation, various breast cancer treatments, and use of certain medications. In situations other than menopause, VVA may resolve spontaneously when estrogen levels are restored. After menopause, the elasticity of the vagina is reduced and connective tissue increases.A decline in estrogen level causes a decrease in vaginal blood flow and a decrease in vaginal lubrication. These changes can be reversed by the use of estrogens.
Mind and memory supplement scorecard
Reliable evidence that supplements actually work is lacking, but exercise and a Mediterranean-style diet support healthy brain aging.
Can taking a pill improve your memory or boost your brain function? Never has one question launched so many health newsletter articles—not to mention so many purchases online and at the drugstore. “My patients and their families ask a lot about supplements, and I try to point them to whatever evidence we have,” says Dr. Gad Marshall, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. He also helps to run clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Dr. Marshall’s list of supplements that people ask about include B vitamins (folic acid, B6, and B12), antioxidants (vitamins C and E, coenzyme Q10), herbal supplements (huperzine A, ginkgo biloba), and nutraceuticals (fish oil, curcumin, coconut oil). For now, you can cross most of these products off your shopping list for lack of evidence. “There are a lot of things out there for which we have no data on whether they are safe or do anything to help,” Dr. Marshall says.
But there is one bright spot in the dietary approach to preserving the mind with aging. It comes in the form of healthy eating and regular exercise. “My strongest recommendations are a Mediterranean-style diet and regular physical exercise,” Dr. Marshall says. “There’s good evidence from multiple studies showing that these lifestyle modifications can prevent cognitive decline and dementia and also slow down existing cognitive decline.”
Lack of evidence
If we have any reliable scientific information about supplements to preserve or improve memory and other mental skills, it has come from clinical trials involving people at risk of mental decline or who have already developed Alzheimer’s disease. In these studies, people have been assigned at random to take either the supplement or an inactive placebo pill.
Dr. Marshall says that in large, well-designed clinical trials, only high doses of vitamin E have been shown to modestly help people who already have moderate dementia. In contrast, a growing number of clinical trials have failed to document a benefit to the mind or memory from the herbal supplement ginkgo biloba. The latest, in the October 2012 Lancet Neurology, found that ginkgo extract did not slow the decline of older adults into dementia.
Some popular memory supplements raise safety concerns. “Vitamin E at doses higher than 400 international units (IU) per day is risky for people with active cardiovascular disease or risk factors for it,” Dr. Marshall says. “There have been several studies showing that at these high doses there was a small increase in the death rate.”
Research has also found that taking 400 IU of vitamin E or more per day may raise the risk of prostate cancer. Unfortunately, the only convincing evidence for a benefit of vitamin E (for people with moderate Alzheimer’s disease) comes from a study involving a relatively high dose: 2,000 IU per day.
Vitamin E, ginkgo biloba, and fish oil supplements may slightly inhibit blood clotting. That means combining these supplements with an anticoagulant drug, such as warfarin (Coumadin), could make you bleed or bruise more.
Supplement buyers: Beware
Caveat emptor, Latin for “let the buyer beware,” should be your guide when it comes to considering supplements for mind and memory. Because of a legal loophole, dietary supplements do not have to pass the rigorous FDA process to ensure they are safe and effective. That means many of these products are on the shelves claiming to “support” or “help” memory because of a gap in the law—not because we have strong evidence that those claims are true.
Supplements for mind and memory: How good is the evidence
|Supplement||Vitamin B6, B12, folic acid||Vitamin
|Ginko biloba||Fish oil||Curcumin||Coconut
|Good evidence that it prevents cognitive
decline or dementia
|Good evidence that it
decline or dementia
|Despite preliminary indications that some supplements may benefit the mind and memory, there remains an overall lack of trustworthy evidence from well-designed, scientific clinical trials. The best evidence comes from large randomized clinical trials designed to determine if certain supplements, like vitamin E, prevent or treat age-related mental decline or previously diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease (dementia).|
Scientists really know how to spoil things- here they show us that romanticism and love is all in our hormones! Shock horror! Lets bring back the days of Keats and Shakespeare and other romantic poets. I feel this is an appropriate post for Feb 14th.
How love grows in your body
“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,” wrote William Shakespeare in his 116th Sonnet. “O no! it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken.”
Nothing could be further from the truth, says the new science of romantic love.
Love is, first and foremost, an emotion—but one that is, more than most emotions, rooted in our bodies. I’m not just referring to lust, though that can lead to romantic love. As love grows and deepens, it lights up some parts of our nervous systems and dims others. The importance of feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine may decline over the course of a relationship—but a love that reaches maturity will bind the lovers on a neurological level.
Far from an “an ever-fixed mark,” love is a process subject to biological forces beyond our conscious control. Drawing from new research by Cal psychologist Dacher Keltner, along with Barbara Fredrickson, John Gottman, Helen Fisher, Kayt Sukel (author of Dirty Minds), and many neuroscientists, here is a list of the places where love abides in our bodies — and the role each one plays in sustaining love over time. Just in time for Valentine’s Day!
Lust is born: The hypothalamus
As this brain scan image suggests, romantic and maternal love affect many of the same parts of the brain—with a few crucial differences. In the brain of a lover, for instance, lust emerges in the funnel-shaped hypothalamus and lights up dopamine-rich parts of the basal ganglia, which is involved in learning and rewards. In other words, lust drives us in a way that motherhood doesn’t. What about when we’re rejected by a prospective lover? In that sad event, the right ventral putamen–pallidum and accumbens core activate. Learn more about the brain in lust.
Pursuit begins: Androgens
When sexual pursuit begins, the brain releases a class of hormone called androgens, including testosterone — which, yes, also happens in women when they see something they want. In fact, as Helen Fisher points out, women produce more new testosterone than men when they compete for a prize. And in the bodies of both men and women, sex raises testosterone counts. So with the right person, the more sex you have, the more sex you want—and the more willing you are to chase after it. Learn more about the effects of testosterone.
Can’t get enough: Orgasms
Orgasm consumes as many as 30 parts of the brain, including those involved in touch, fantasy, memory, and reward. As you can see in this image of an orgasm Kayt Sukel experienced in a brain scanner, the climax burns through the brain like wildfire, setting alight the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex (while smothering other parts, like the left orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in decision making).
Orgasm releases the hormone serotonin, an opiate whose chemicals we also find in heroin—thus it is no surprise that sex with the right person can become addictive. Get some sex tips for men.
Judgement fails: The amygdala
There’s an old region near the brainstem called the amygdala. That’s the threat-detector—it starts firing when you see danger, risk, and uncertainty. When you’re in the intense throes of romantic love, the amygdala sleeps, as do parts of the frontal lobe, which involves judgment. The upshot is that the brain in love is prone to bad decisions—it has trouble detecting threats (like jealous spouses) and connecting actions with long-term consequences (like the effects of unprotected sex). Learn more about the amygdala.
Trust and devotion grow: Oxytocin
As the brain moves from lust to love, the ventral pallidum activates. Our blood is flooded with the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which has been shown to increase generosity and empathy. Women already have a lot of oxytocin, but studies show that men get a big surge in it after a long, passionate kiss; it’s one of the biological forces that moves them away from pure lust toward care, trust, and devotion. This is also true of rodents—if you give a promiscuous vole a little dose of oxytocin, it becomes monogamous. Learn more about oxytocin.
Bodies and minds synchronize: The vagus nerve
As positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has described, heart rhythms, facial expressions, and hand gestures begin to synchronize in long-term lovers—a process largely regulated by the vagus nerve, which winds from the brain to the heart. This neurological alignment enables us to detect trouble or pain in our beloved when no else can.
And as lovers tune in to each other, they become more willing and able to make sacrifices for the relationship. Research finds that if sacrifice comes out of a desire to alleviate suffering in our spouses, we get many mental and physical health benefits.
The love may have cooled and calmed—we’re no longer getting the same sweaty shots of dopamine and serotonin—but it is deeper, heavier, more beneficial, more compassionate. The vagus nerve response strengthens with more compassionate feeling, and there is more activity in brain regions that help reduce anxiety and pain. Discover the secrets of the vagus nerve and the science of love in the autumn years.
From passion to compassion: The skin
Touch is “our primary language of compassion,” says Dacher Keltner, “and a primary means for spreading compassion.” Touching in couples increases happiness and lowers stress levels, but there are some gender differences in how touch is perceived: Dacher’s research shows that women aren’t always able to feel the compassion in a man’s touch, and men are often slow to pick up on anger in a woman’s touch.
But we learn to forgive and our bodies gradually learn each other right down to our cells. The research says that, over time, we can come to see and appreciate our partner’s weakness, as well as our own—and we become capable of giving our partners the compassion which we would like to receive.
When love reaches maturity, nothing can comfort us more than the feel of our lover’s skin against our skin. Learn more about how to sustain compassion in a long-term relationship and take our quiz to test how compassionate your love is.