Dr. Siegel's Take: Touch Treatment for Stress

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Watching the worried pundits on the FOX Business Channel for the past few weeks, I've been wondering, medically speaking, what the solution is going to be for all the stress that is sure to result from our flailing economy. It has been well documented that stress, including the financial kind, can lead to heart attacks, strokes, depression, suicide, and certain kinds of cancer.

But as often is the case with health, a complex problem may lead to a simple solution. Coincidentally, in the middle of all our worry, a new study was published that shows the positive effects of touch.

* A new study from Utah researchers published in Psychosomatic Medicineshows that warm touch decreases stress hormones and lowers blood pressure. The study looked at married couples ages 20 to 39 in their own environment and found that massage, touch, hugging, kissing, had these effects and also increased the calming hormone oxytocin. A key positive feature of this study was the non-laboratory setting. Criticism of previous studies on stress and touch have included concerns about the artificial environment of the laboratory.

* According to the American Hospital Association 37 percent of hospitals in the U.S. use complementary and alternative treatments including touch therapy. This policy is growing, and may help improve disease outcomes.

* Previous studies from Miami (Touch Research Institute) show that massage and relaxation therapies enhance mood and immune function for women with breast cancer. The institute has also published data revealing faster growth in premature babies, a better tolerance of pain, lower glucose level in diabetic children who were frequently touched.

* Another interesting study from Virginia showed a decrease in fear, danger, and threat responses in the centers of the brain when women touched the hands of their husbands while experiencing pain.

* Petting dogs has been shown to be calming, to lower stress, and to have a positive impact on immune function and the fight against disease.

I am advocating touch as a treatment for stress, but there is a downside. Of course touch increases the risk of spreading many bacteria and viruses. And with cold and flu season right around the corner, I am compelled to add that while you are hugging and stroking to compensate for your worry, make sure to wash your hands afterward.

Dr. Marc Siegel is an internist and associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. He is a FOX News Medical Contributor and writes a health column for LA Times, where he examines TV and movies for medical accuracy. Dr. Siegel is the author of "False Alarm: the Truth About the Epidemic of Fear" and "Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic". Read more at www.doctorsiegel.com