WASHINGTON -- A snuggle can help lower blood pressure and reduce stress, a new study suggests. Researchers theorize that a pause and cuddle suppress stress hormones and release oxytocin, a hormone associated with maternal love.
The study of 38 couples measured blood pressure, stress levels and oxytocin before and after they discussed a happy moment together, watched five minutes of a romantic film and shared a 20-second hug.
The result, according to an article in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, was lower levels of the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine and higher levels of oxytocin in both men and women. Those shifts all contribute to cardiac health.
Women were found to be more responsive to warm partner contact. Dr. Karen Grewen, a psychiatrist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and lead researcher, said oxytocin and the female reproductive hormone estrogen are closely related, which may be why women were more responsive than men were.
The researchers theorized that beneficial hormonal shifts stimulated by mellow romance are a health benefit of marriage. Conversely, the shifts may help explain why divorce is linked to increased mortality.
While the sample size was adequate to show a role for oxytocin, it was too small to suggest causation, Grewen said. The study also lacked a control group.