Shed tears to stay healthy

November 11th, 2008 - 1:46 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 11 (IANS) Are you alexithymic or anhedonic? You may profit from therapeutic interventions to stimulate your lacrimal apparatus. In other words, if you can’t feel emotions or are unable to derive pleasure from good experiences, make yourself weep with medical help, scientists across the world advise.And if you don’t suffer from either symptom, carry on weeping still, for good health, they suggest.

Why we cry and what happens when we do is still a mystery, but that hasn’t stopped researchers from studying its effects. Their latest research suggests that crying is not only a stress-buster, but is good at healing too.

A clue to the purpose of crying perhaps lies in the experimental finding that emotional tears contain different compounds from regular eye watering, such as that triggered by chopping onions.

Tears associated with emotion have higher levels of some proteins, and of manganese and potassium, and hormones, including prolactin, than mere eye watering. Manganese is an essential nutrient. Too little of it can lead to slowed blood clotting, skin problems, and lowered cholesterol levels.

Potassium is involved in nerve working, muscle control and blood pressure. Prolactin is a hormone involved in stress and plays a role in the immune system and other body functions.

William Frey, professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Minnesota, is quoted by The Independent as saying: “Because unalleviated stress can increase our risk for heart attack and damage certain areas of our brain, the human ability to cry has survival value.”

New research shows that crying increases arousal of certain body functions to ward off some physiological threats. In support of this theory, some research shows that skin sensitivity increases during and after crying, and that breathing deepens - both considered healthy signs.

“It is possible that crying is both an arousing distress signal and a means to restore psychological and physiological balance,” say researchers at the University of South Florida. Others suggest that emotional tears signal distress and encourage group behaviour, as well as improve social support and inhibit aggression.

Researchers at the University of South Florida found that almost everyone feels better after a cry and that personality has a big effect on how often we cry.

“The overwhelming majority of our participants reported mood improvement after crying. Our results may have also implications for clinical interventions,” the researchers said.

Currently research is underway in several countries on the therapeutic effects of crying. Psychologists at the University of Florida are using scans to locate the areas of the brain involved in crying.

The Tilberg University in The Netherlands is studying the social impact of crying. Researchers at Bunka Women’s University and Nagano College in Japan are simulating crying experiences to understand their health values.

The increasing research into crying and its beneficial health effects may also make shedding tears less of a taboo behaviour.

William Frey, author of “Crying: The Mystery of Tears”, says: “It is no accident that crying has survived evolutionary pressures. Humans are the only animals to evolve this ability to shed tears in response to emotional stress, and it is likely that crying survived the pressures of natural selection because it has some survival value.”

Weeping by numbers:

20 percent of bouts of crying last longer than 30 minutes
8 percent go on for longer than one hour
70 percent of criers make no attempt to hide their crying
77 percent of crying takes place at home
15 percent at work or in the car
40 percent of people weep alone
39 percent of crying occurs in the evening, the most popular time compared with morning, afternoon, and night (16, 29 and 17 percent respectively)
6-8 p.m. is the most common time for crying
88.8 percent feel better after a cry
47: average number of times a woman cries each year
7: average annual number of crying episodes for a man

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