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The healing power of art and nature could be real after scientists discovered they boost your immune system.
Seeing such spine-tingling wonders as the Grand Canyon and Sistine Chapel or listening to Schubert’s Ave Maria can fight off disease, say scientists.
Great nature and art boost the immune system by lowering levels of chemicals that cause inflammation that can trigger diabetes, heart attacks and other illnesses.
Monet’s Water Lily Pond paintings
In two separate experiments on more than 200 young adults reported on a given day the extent to which they had experienced such positive emotions as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride.
Samples of gum and cheek tissue – known as oral mucosal transudate – taken that same day showed those who experienced more of these – in particular wonder and amazement – had the lowest levels of the cytokine Interleukin 6 which is a marker of inflammation.
Psychologist Dr Dacher Keltner, of California University in Berkeley, said: “That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests the things we do to experience these emotions – a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art – has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.”
Cytokines are chemicals necessary for herding cells to the body’s battlegrounds to fight infection, disease and trauma but too many are linked with disorders like type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s.
Dr Jennifer Stellar, of Toronto University who was at California University in Berkeley when she carried out the study, said: “Our findings demonstrate positive emotions are associated with the markers of good health.”
It has long been established a healthy diet and lots of sleep and exercise bolster the body’s defences against physical and mental illnesses.
But the study published in Emotion is one of the first to look at the role of positive emotions in that arsenal.
In addition to autoimmune diseases elevated cytokines have been tied to depression.
One recent study found depressed patients had higher levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine known as TNF-alpha than their non-depressed counterparts.
It is believed by signalling the brain to produce inflammatory molecules cytokines can block key hormones and neurotransmitters – such as serotonin and dopamine – that control moods, appetite, sleep and memory.
Dr Stellar said: “Awe is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore which could counter inflammation where individuals typically withdraw from others in their environment.”
As for which came first – the low cytokines or the positive feelings – it’s “possible having lower cytokines makes people feel more positive emotions or the relationship is bi-directional.”
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