Hugging for your health
We try to wash our hands, wipe our noses, and generally not spread germs around. After all, snot and saliva are great ways to transmit pathogens to make the people around us sick, even if you’re not in the same room together. This isn’t to say that when you’re worried about catching a cold that you should remove yourself from all human contact. Studies have actually found that some close and personal contact like hugs may help us fend off unwanted infections.
The foundation of cold-preventing hugs seems to be a feeling of social support, and the way that can lower stress levels. After purposely exposing volunteers to a common cold virus, researchers found that people with more emotional and social support in their lives were less likely to actually get sick. Hugs were a key metric in this case, which fits with other studies measuring the physiological benefits of a good, enjoyable hug. In a 10-second embrace, our brains release oxytocin, which is associated with social bonding (among other things.) Longer hugs and hand-holding have also been measured to lower stress hormones that can hinder your immune-system’s effectiveness.
Swapping microbes with a squeeze
While this hugging study focused on intimacy lowering stress levels, those embraces were also a way for people to swap microbes. Not every bacterium is bad news, and our bodies have evolved to function in tandem with a host of different microbes both inside and out. You passively share your microbiome with anyone you live with, including pets, which in the end is probably beneficial to your immune system. If your skin is home to benign microbes, they’ll likely help keep would-be pathogens off their territory. Small exposures to new bacteria, say from a friendly hug, can also be a safe way for your immune system to learn and adapt, hopefully preventing real infections down the line.
This of course isn’t a call for doling our hugs when you already have a runny nose, but if you’re feeling stressed or run down, it’s another reason to maybe reach out for a hug.
Source: Can Hugs Fight The Common Cold? by Jono Simrin, D News