Q: Chuck, musician Huey Lewis once hit the top of the charts with his now classic song "The Power of Love." Having endured a bit of heartbreak lately, I was contemplating just how potent love is. What does your research reveal about its power? — "Waiting for Cupid to Come Back on Valentine's Day"
A: From inception, we humans need nurture and love. Countless studies have proved their power from the cradle to the grave.
In his book "Nurturing the Unborn Child," Dr. Thomas Verny notes how prenatal and perinatal psychologists have proved that babies in the womb have "significant sensory capabilities" that respond to loving and adverse attention and conditions. By the fourth month after conception, high-tech tools — such as the ultrasound — have shown that babies have a well-developed sense of touch and taste.
To understand the power of nurturing, Verny explained what happens when a loving environment is absent around the womb: "Though some stress during pregnancy is normal, our studies show that mothers under extreme and constant stress are more likely to have babies who are premature, lower than average in weight, hyperactive, irritable, and colicky. In extreme instances, these babies may be born with thumbs sucked raw or even with ulcers."
In 2010, a group of studies led by Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez confirmed what most expected and earlier research suggested: "Children who get more positive touch and affection during infancy turn out to be kinder, (to be) more intelligent and to care more about others," in the words of Maia Szalavitz, a neuroscience journalist who co-authored with leading child psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Perry "Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered."
In 2012, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine who utilized magnetic resonance imaging to reveal that the hippocampus region of a preschooler's brain — responsible for memory forming, organizing and storing, as well as stress and emotional management — actually enlarged under the care of a nurturing parent.
Of course, a plethora of research and life experiences have clearly demonstrated to most of us just how critical the power of love is through childhood and adolescence and into adulthood. Lisa Collier Cool, a best-selling author and the winner of 19 journalism awards, reported for Yahoo Health on seven clinically based ways in which love improves our all-around health and mental stability:
—Love defuses stress and improves our immune system.
—Love heals personal and relational wounds.
—Love betters brain health by lowering cognitive impairment.
—Loving touches enhance personal and relational security and safety.
—Loving hugs increase the hormone oxytocin, which is responsible for social bonding, increase cardiovascular system strength and even lower blood pressure.
—Loving commitment improves the health of married couples in comparison with those who are separated, divorced or widowed.
—Love increases personal happiness.
And what about the voracious romantic hunger between lovers that we celebrate on Valentine's Day?
Believe it or not — and this one is for all flower lovers — Dr. Jeannette Haviland-Jones, director of the Human Emotions Lab at Rutgers University, led a study in which her team discovered that those who send flowers, in comparison with other gifts, as an expression of their love and adoration are regarded as "successful, caring and emotionally intelligent people." (So much for diamonds being girl's best friend.)
And in an article titled "Mind blowing power of love," The Sydney Morning Herald reported, "A five-year study monitoring brain activity during therapy sessions has shown that two people can become physiologically aligned — parts of their nervous systems beating in harmony — despite having no physical contact with each (other)."
Dr. Trisha Stratford, the neuropsychotherapist who spearheaded the research at the University of Technology, Sydney, said there was a sixth sense that occurred when people fell in love. She explained: "It was very exciting. When we're in this moment of oneness or an altered state, the most exciting thing is that a part of the brain called the parietal lobe is fired into action. When this happens we can read each other's brains and bodies at a deeper level — a sixth sense."
Speaking of sixth senses, after 10 years of studying how religious people (specifically evangelical Christians) receive and return love with the Almighty, Stanford University's anthropology professor Tanya Marie Luhrmann documented her research in her book "When God Talks Back." She explained: "They are not the lunatic fringe. They are not crazy. ... What I found out is that there's a learning process. People are able to learn to have vivid experiences of God. ... I actually think there's good evidence that having this kind of intimate relationship with God is good for you." Luhrmann called the practice of prayer "the inner sense cultivation" of that loving relationship with God. (Very timely information with the beginning of Lent coming up and the theater release of two biblically epic movies, "Son of God" and "Noah.")
In summary, Szalavitz and Perry wrote: "While we are born for love, we need to receive it in certain, specific ways in early life to benefit most from its mercy. We need to practice love as we grow through different social experiences to best be able to give it back in abundance. The brain becomes what it does most frequently. It is shaped every day by what we do — and what we don't do. If we don't practice empathy, we can't become more empathetic. If we don't interact with people, we can't improve our connections to them. If we don't ease each other's stress through caring contact, we will all be increasingly distressed."
So get out there this Valentine's Day and beyond and practice loving those you love (and find it hard to love) from the cradle to beyond the grave. And remember as you do: Love changes everything — except it might not always help you lose weight!
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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