By DRS. KAY JUDGE AND MAXINE BARISH-WREDEN – McClatchy Newspapers
Of our five senses, touch is the only one that is essential to life. Studies on premature babies have shown a link between holding the babies and better survival rates. Touch has also been linked to many other health benefits – from decreased pain to increased immunity, enhanced alertness and improved performance.
Three new studies on massage reinforce the importance of touch to our lifelong health and well-being:
-Touch may help alleviate symptoms of depression, according to a March study in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study reviewed 17 trials involving almost 800 people, comparing massage therapy with other approaches, including herbs, rest or no treatment.
The researchers hypothesized that touch may help reduce depression by inducing relaxation, reducing stress, building an alliance between the therapist and patient, and releasing the feel-good hormone oxytocin.
-Massage may help bereaved people. A study published in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing looked at 18 people who recently had lost a relative to cancer. Hand or foot massage was performed once a week for eight weeks, and it was found that massage helped people deal with the grief and move forward in their lives.
-Massage can reduce anxiety. A recent study on 68 patients published in the journal Depression and Anxiety showed that patients had half the symptoms of anxiety and stress three months after getting a series of 10 hour-long massages. This is one of the first studies to look at the benefits of massage on generalized anxiety disorder. (Surprisingly, it was found that there was an equal relaxation response when the patients listened to soothing music.)
Amid all these health benefits, it is interesting that in studies evaluating the frequency of touch in various countries, the United States and Britain had the least amount of touch in human interactions. We do not live in a society that celebrates touch.
Further, social isolation, and therefore touch isolation, is most likely to occur in the groups that can derive the most health benefits – the sick and the elderly.
So if you or a loved one faces depression or illness, consider the healing power of touch – whether in the form of a hug or a massage. It may be an important step in the healing journey.
This information is brought to you by Dr. XiPing Zhou, M.D.O.M., L.Ac. Dr. Zhou is founder & president of East West Healing Arts Institute Massage School, Dr. Zhou’s Acupuncture & Pain Management Clinic,Madison Family Wellness Community Clinic, The Herbal Palace, &China Delight Tours. Visit anyone of these websites to learn about Chinese medicine and culture.