I just had to write this blog because a little 8-week old Labrador puppy joined our family last week. We’ve called him ‘Oscar’. He’s a bundle of cuteness, extremely playful, and also VERY fond of chewing his way through just about anything left lying on the floor.
We all know how much love dogs have to share, but I also wanted to share with you why they are good for your health, and especially for your heart. Research shows that interacting with a dog elevates levels of the hormone oxytocin. In one study, 20 minutes of positive interaction with a dog elevated oxytocin levels by around 20%.
You may wonder what that means. Well, oxytocin is known as a cardioprotective hormone, in that it helps to protect the cardiovascular system from damage. It works in two main ways.
First, it binds to the lining of the blood vessels to stimulate the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide then dilates (widens) the arteries, causing blood pressure to be lower. People familiar with angina medication may know of ‘glyceryl trinitrate’ (nitroglycerin). It’s a medicine that basically delivers 3 lots (tri-) of nitric oxide to do the same job.
Second, research into how cardiovascular disease develops identified free radicals and inflammation as two processes that play a major role. When oxytocin was added to test tubes containing stressed cells, free radical levels dropped by up to 48% depending on the cell type, and inflammation by up to 57%.
Oxytocin is very good for the heart!
It’ll come as no surprise, then, to learn that in men who have had a heart attack, the chances of a second one for those who have a dog is 400% lower then for those who don’t have a dog, a statistic that has moved many cardiologists to write ‘get a dog’ into their prescriptions.
Of course, walking the dog also provides much needed exercise and is also a de-stressor, so this also contributes to cardiovascular health. These are obvious, but I wanted to mention oxytocin because hardly anyone knows about how powerful a role it plays.
I can’t tell you how much I love having little Oscar in our lives. Watching him play brings a tear to my eyes. I joked with my partner, Elizabeth, that as she’s an actress, this is her first Oscar. In only a week, he has brought so much love and joy into our home, as well as naughtiness! Two of my good shirts are now sporting teeth marks and holes.
Note: My book, ‘Why Kindness is Good for You’ is about the best resource I know of for the cardiovascular benefits of oxytocin.
Copyright 2021 David R. Hamilton PhD.