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Haims: The healing power of touch

The healing power of touch lacks a general consensus in scientific studies. However, debunking the efficacy of touch and its therapeutic value(s) is hard to do. The colloquial phrase “magic touch” may have more behind it than many might think.

The body is a very complicated machine. While modern science has enabled us to search the farthest parts of space and peer into the human genome, the “final frontier” may very well lay within our head.

The complex chemistry that powers our brain and enables us to use our bodies is truly miraculous. That we possess the ability to think thoughts that can alter the structure and function of our brain and body, invent something where there once was nothing, is incredible and very real.

For the purely scientific of mind, the concept that the mind can influence the healing of the body may be incompatible with the scientific methods of research. After all, you can’t wish or think your way to curing blindness or repairing a broken bone.

But, there is a proven phenomenon called the placebo effect that provides an interesting juxtaposition between science and the power of the mind. The placebo effect lends credibility to how our mere beliefs about the effectiveness of an inert treatment or intervention can lead to demonstrable health benefits and cognitive changes.

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Clearly, the mind and body work in tandem when it comes to our experience of some physical and psychological ailments.

More than just holding hands

Humans have the unique ability to influence some of our body’s physical responses thereby allowing us to manage stress, heartrate, and pain. A recent study conducted by researchers at Israel’s University of Haifa and the University of Colorado at Boulder has found that the touch and hand holding of a loved partner can alter the brainwaves and reduce pain levels felt in the other partner.

While it is generally accepted that that hand-holding is important for social and emotional support, there is now scientific research showing the brain mechanisms that play a role in this effect. With the use of an electroencephalogram, scientists have measured the brain signals of heterosexual couples while holding hands, not holding hands, and while seated nearby with no physical contact.

The researchers observed that without exposure to pain, the woman’s heart rate and breathing synchronized with her partner just by sitting together. With pain, synchronization ceased. However, when the man took the woman’s hand, the synchronization resumed, and the woman felt less pain.

The therapeutic benefits of touch have also been studied with infants. Dr. Hany Aly, chair of the Cleveland Clinic’s department of neonatology, has studied the benefits of touch for premature infants. His studies have shown improvements in bone mineralization and weight gain of babies who have received massage with and without kinesthetic stimulation that consists of passive motion of the limbs.

Further benefits of touch are supported in an article published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information which reports, “Early stimulation given to neonates will change the growth of the brain cells, improve adaptive behavior, and finally cause the achievement of the optimal development of their age.”

Conversely, babies who are not held and receive skin-to-skin time, are denied hugging, and lack bonding time can stop growing, and if the situation lasts long enough, even die. In some situations, psychiatric illness such as attachment disorder can develop. Infants and young children with attachment disorder are often challenged in successfully developing socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Hardwired for touch

People often take physical touch for granted. Fortunately, scientists are finding it has proven benefits and plays a vital role in the healing of the body as well as the mind. While people may differ in the amount of physical contact they find comfortable, touch has proven to have physical and emotional benefits.

Humans are hardwired for touch. It is the first of the five senses to develop and thus is literally in our DNA.

It’s plausible that many of the mental health challenges society faces stem from a disconnect of physical touch. When possible, forego screen time and consider face to face time. Greet a friend or loved one with a hug. It makes a difference.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County.  He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. He can be contacted at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or by calling 970-328-5526.


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