The Latest Inflammation Cure is Not What You’d Expect
From the dawn of time humans have been drawn to things that inspire awe and wonder, from physical beauty to art to music. Pursuits of these passions and inspirations are often thought to be “good for the soul,” but, until the release of a recent study, this has always been a difficult concept to quantify, scientifically. Well, that is now starting to change.
New research has determined that these types of positive experiences—and the awe and emotion they inspire—actually lower levels of inflammation, thereby helping the body’s immune system to naturally work better.
The Link Between Emotion and Inflammation
In an exciting new research study, researchers have scientifically linked positive emotions, particularly due to experiencing awe through our senses, to a reduction in bodily inflammation, promoting a healthy immune system. According to new research from UC Berkeley published in the journal Emotion, these experiences reduce bodily levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins designed to tell the immune system to work harder. The researchers performed two separate experiments, in which over 200 young adults reported the extent to which they had positive emotions on a given day, such as awe, compassion, amusement, joy, pride, love, and contentment. Then, using samples of gum and cheek tissues, they compared those responses to the participants’ levels of the cytokine, Interleukin 6, which is a marker of inflammation. Sure enough, the participants who reported having had positive experiences that day exhibited lower levels of cytokine.
How Positive Feelings and a Sense of Awe Can Lower Inflammation
Although this explanation demands more rigorous study in order to be confirmed, researchers have offered scientific reasoning for their findings. Cytokines are not inherently bad, as they are necessary for directing cells in order to fight infections, diseases, and trauma, but they may be damaging in high quantities. In fact, sustained high levels of cytokines have been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, including such ailments as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and even mental health disorders such as Alzheimer’s and depression.
At this point, you may be wondering what awe-inspiring experiences have to do with cytokines. Well, as evidenced by the new research, these experiences appear to promote a healthy disposition within people, leading to better health outcomes. As the lead author of the study Jennifer Stellar puts it, “awe is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore, suggesting antithetical behavioral responses to those found during inflammation, where individuals typically withdraw from others in their environment.” In other words, awe-inspiring experiences reduce inflammation by encouraging positive engagement with the natural environment.
How You Can Achieve the Anti-Inflammatory Benefit of Awe
This is the fun part! In light of these new findings, there’s ever more reason to pursue whatever experiences or activities give you a sense of awe and amazement. Take the time to seek out and truly soak in the natural beauty around you. Visit a museum to appreciate and admire the art on display. Turn up the volume on your favorite song to focus on the music and the experience of listening. Do something positive for your family, friends, or community and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction you experience from helping to improve the lives of others. Whatever your passion may be, pursue it anew, with a fresh sense of excitement and vitality, knowing all the while that you are taking steps to support a healthy body and immune system. Amazingly, filling your life with these types of positive emotions and experiences may actually lead to a longer, healthier life, not to mention a better one thanks to the experiences themselves.
Derek is a technical writer and editor with 10 years of experience in the health care field, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware. He is a contributing author on a number of textbooks in the medical field, ran a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and has written a variety of other pieces from online training courses to medical software manuals. Derek pursues his personal interest in health and wellness by playing multiple sports and running marathons. An insatiable traveler, he spent 16 months working and living abroad while traveling through South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.