By Jayney Goddard MSc, FCMA, FRSPH, Lic.LCCH, Dip.ACH. President: The Complementary Medical Association
There is a wealth of academic research in the field of ‘compassion’ – particularly in the nursing arena and now spreading to other conventional medical fields too and it is becoming firmly established that love, kindness, compassion and altruism are all associated with positive health benefits for those giving and receiving these beautiful acts. These benefits impact us on every level; mentally, emotionally, physically and of course spiritually.
Of course, those of us working in the complementary medical and natural healthcare fields intuitively know all of this and more. Speaking very personally, I have to say that I am constantly and consistently astonished by the profound kindness and compassion I witness every day by observing the work of our wonderful Members at The Complementary Medical Association – I know that I am deeply privileged to be able to interact with these incredible selfless people – and I am eternally grateful.
What follows is a collection of just some of the research that I have come across over the years - and which I believe speaks deeply to the effects of love, kindness, compassion and altruism on us all. This is my Valentine to you – given with love and best wishes for your health and well-being in every respect.
Positive emotions and well-being.
In the 1990s researchers (Danner et al.) revisited the famous study conducted among nuns who had written short personal essays. It was found that the nuns who expressed the most positive emotions lived 10 years longer and were also somewhat protected from dementia.
Furthermore, when we are able to embrace positive emotions – when we feel good, our thinking becomes more creative, integrative, flexible, and we are so much more open to information. To illustrate this, a study conducted in 2003 by Fredrickson demonstrated that positive emotions dramatically enhanced psychological and physical resistance
Health benefits for recipients (those who receive compassionate love)
Most of us innately sense that compassion, love, and social support have health benefits for recipients and research bears this out too (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Harlow, 1958). There is the famous “Bunny Love Study” (my name for it – do forgive me!). In this study, researchers in the late 1970s were studying the effects of a diet high in fat and cholesterol in rabbits. During the study a rather strange anomaly became apparent: One subgroup of rabbits had 60% less atherosclerosis than the group as a whole, even though they ate the same diet. It was eventually discovered that the lab assistant who fed and cared for this particular group of rabbits took them out of their cages, petted them, and talked to them before feeding. The study was repeated twice with the same results and was reported in Science (Nerem, Levesque, & Cornhill, 1980).
Love, closeness and caring in families is incredibly important for health and well-being: In a remarkable study, reported by Stephen G Post – (Director, Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University and President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love) 126 healthy young men were randomly selected in the early 1950s from the Harvard classes of 1952 and 1954 and given questionnaires about their perceptions of the love they felt from their parents.
Thirty-five years later, the men were followed up and 91% of participants who reported that they did not perceive themselves to have had warm relationships with their mothers had medically diagnosed midlife diseases (including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, duodenal ulcer, and alcoholism), as compared to only 45% of those who reported a warm relationship with their mothers. In addition, 82% of those indicated low warmth and closeness to their fathers had these diagnoses too, compared with 50% who reported high warmth and closeness.
Astoundingly, 100% of those who reported low warmth and closeness from both parents had diseases diagnosed in midlife, whereas only 47% who reported both parents as being warm and close had midlife diagnoses. Post states: “Although this Harvard study needs corroboration, it points to the now widely accepted biopsychosocial model that being loved, cared for, and supported by others is critically important to health and treatment efficacy (Goodkin & Visser, 2000).”
Women too are deeply affected by emotional stress. In the now very well-known 2004 study by Epel, Blackburn et al., two groups of women were studied: the first set were mums looking after healthy children and the second set were mums looking after chronically ill children. The researchers were keen to find out whether emotional stress can be correlated with premature ageing – as frequently people who are chronically stressed often look ‘haggard’. The researchers were particularly interested in whether stress has an effect on telomere length. Telomeres are DNA–protein complexes that cap chromosomal ends, promoting chromosomal stability. Think of them as being a bit like the plastic bits on the ends of your shoelaces – that stop your laces from unraveling. When cells divide, the telomere is not fully replicated because of limitations of the DNA polymerases in completing the replication of the ends of the linear molecules, leading to telomere shortening with every replication. Think of it as taking a photocopy of a photocopy – an how an image degrades with repeated copying.
It was found that the women with highest levels of perceived stress caring for their chronically ill children had telomeres that were, on average, shortened by one decade.
Altruism, happiness and health
Selflessness and altruism lead to happiness and health. Retired people over the age of 65 Retires older than 65 who volunteered to help others rated significantly higher on life satisfaction and will to live and demonstrated far fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and somatization.
Study after study shows that adult altruistic behaviour is associated with enhanced well-being, improved morale, self-esteem, and positive emotions. Furthermore, studies show that there is also a reduction in depressive symptoms among people who help others and higher levels of happiness, and evidence of enhanced overall wellness.
There is a phenomenon called the “Helper’s High”: In fact, research by Luks shows that two thirds of helpers reported a distinct physical sensation associated with helping:
About half report a “high” feeling
43% felt stronger and more energetic
28% felt warm
22% felt calmer and less depressed
21% felt greater self-worth
13% experienced fewer aches and pains
The effects of doing kind and compassionate actions can be measure physiologically: Older adults massaging infants had measurably lowerl levels of stress hormones, including salivary cortisol and plasma norepinephrine and epinephrine.
And finally, even just watching kindness and compassion in action makes you physically more resilient – as does thinking about love. Students were asked to watch a film about about Mother Teresa’s work, or they were given the task (!) of “dwelling on love”. After the two tasks were undertaken it was found that there was a significant increase in the protective salivary immunoglobin A (S-IgA).
 Danner, D. D., Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. V. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 804–813.
 Fredrickson, B. L. (2003). The value of positive emotions: The emerging science of positive psychology is coming to under- stand why it’s good to feel good. American Scientist, 91, 330–335..
 Nerem, R. M., Levesque, M. J., & Cornhill, J. F. (1980). Social envi- ronment as a factor in diet-induced atherosclerosis. Science, 208, 1475–1476.
 Russek, L. G., & Schwartz, G. E. (1997). Feelings of parental caring predict health status in midlife: A 35 year follow-up of the Harvard Mastery of Stress Study. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 20, 1–13.
 Epel, S. E., Blackburn, E. S., Lin, J., Dhabhar, F. S., Adler, N. E., Morrow, J. D., & Cawthorn, R. M. (2004). “Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101, 17312–17315.
 Hunter, K. I., & Linn, M. W. (1980–1981). Psychosocial differences between elderly volunteers and non-volunteers. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 12, 205–213.
 Midlarsky, E., & Kahana, E. (1994). Altruism in later life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
 Musick, M. A., Herzog, A. R., & House, J. S. (1999). Volunteering and mortality among older adults: Findings from a national sample. Journals of Gerontology Series B-Psychological Sci- ences Social Sciences, 54(3), S173–S180.
 Krueger, R. F., Hicks, B. M., & McGue, M. (2001). Altruism and an- tisocial behavior: Independent tendencies, unique personality correlates, distinct etiologies. Psychological Science, 12, 397–402.
 Luks, A. (1988, October). Helper’s high: Volunteering makes people feel good, physically and emotionally. And like “runner’s calm,” it’s probably good for your health. Psychology Today, 22(10), 34–42.
 Field, M. F., Hernandez-Reif, M., Quintino, O., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn C. (1998). Elder retired volunteers benefit from giving message therapy to infants. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 17,
 McClelland, D., McClelland, D. C., & Kirchnit, C. (1988). The ef- fect of motivational arousal through films on salivary immuno- globulin A. Psychology and Health, 2, 31–52.
In this article you’ll learn how to balance your dopamine levels healthily and naturally so that you can regain your zest for life, increase your motivation and improve your mood and overall cognitive functioning.
The 86 billion neurons in our brain communicate with each other via a set of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is a key driver of focus, motivation and productivity. Low dopamine levels can lead to lack of motivation, fatigue, addictive behavior, mood swings and memory loss.
What does dopamine do?
Dopamine has been called our “motivation molecule.” It has a strong influence on our drive, focus, and concentration. This neurotransmitter is crucial in helping us to plan ahead and resist impulses so we can achieve our goals. Interestingly, dopamine gives us that “I did it!” feeling when we accomplish what we set out to do. It also makes us more competitive and engenders ‘the thrill of the chase’ in all areas of our lives including business, sports, love, and sex.
Dopamine is intrinsically linked to our pleasure/reward system, allowing us to experience feelings of enjoyment, bliss, and even euphoria. However, a lack of dopamine can leave you unmotivated, lethargic, unfocused, and even depressed.
The symptoms of depression are very similar to the symptoms produced by low dopamine levels and they include:
In fact, dopamine-deficient mice in laboratory settings become so apathetic and lethargic they lack motivation to eat and starve to death. Conversely, some people who are low in dopamine compensate with excessive and often self-destructive behaviors to get their dopamine boost. The following behaviours are known to boost dopamine levels – in the short term – but carry a heavy penalty in the long term: These can include use and abuse of addictive substances including alcohol, caffeine, sugar, drugs, and participation in destructive behaviours including excessive shopping, sex addiction, overuse of video games, online porn, misuse of power, gambling, or uncontrolled internet overuse.
How to increase dopamine naturally
Thankfully, we don’t have to resort to “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” to boost our dopamine levels. Here are some healthy, proven ways to increase dopamine levels naturally:
Dopamine boosting foods
Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine. So, eating a diet high in tyrosine will ensure you’ve got the basic building blocks needed for dopamine production. Here’s a list of foods, drinks, and spices known to increase dopamine:
Supplements that can raise dopamine healthily, naturally and safely
Curcumin is the main active ingredient in the spice turmeric. Curcumin readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and can effectively enhance dopamine levels. It has been found to be as effective as Prozac for treating even major depression without concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders. Look for a curcumin supplement that contains piperine — a compound found in black pepper that increases curcumin absorption by a at least 2,000%.
Ginkgo biloba is traditionally used for a variety of brain-related problems — poor cognitive function including lack of concentration, poor memory, headaches, mental confusion, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Ginkgo works by raising dopamine along with acetylcholine — a neurotransmitter associated with memory and learning.
L-theanine is a component found in green tea. It increases levels of dopamine along with two other feel-good neurotransmitters, serotonin and GABA. L-theanine improves learning, the ability to recall information and improves mood. Get a dopamine boost by taking theanine supplements to avoid the caffeine and acidity associated with the tea in its original form.
L-tyrosine, a precursor to dopamine, is available as a supplement, however a better option is acetyl-l-tyrosine, a more bioavailable form that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier.
Phosphatidylserine acts as your brain’s “gatekeeper,” in that it regulates the flow of nutrients and waste in and out of your brain. It can increase dopamine levels and improve concentration, memory, learning, and improve the symptoms of ADHD.
Exercise to boost dopamine
Physical exercise boosts production of new brain cells, it slows down brain cell aging, and improves the flow of nutrients to the brain. It can also increase your levels of dopamine along with both serotonin and norepinephrine.
Dr. John Ratey, the renowned psychiatrist has extensively studied the effects of physical exercise on the brain. He found that exercise raises baseline levels of dopamine by promoting the growth of new brain cell receptors. But you don’t need to exercise strenuously to improve your brain health. Taking walks, or doing gentle, no-impact exercises like yoga, tai chi, or qi gong all provide potent mind-body benefits.
Increase dopamine with meditation
It’s been shown that meditation increases dopamine, and the benefits of meditation have been proven in over 1,000 studies. Regular meditators experience an enhanced ability to learn, increased creativity, and deep relaxation. In addition, creative hobbies including knitting, quilting, sewing, drawing, colouring, and DIY — can create a meditative state. Loving Kindness or Metta meditation particularly boosts dopamine – as does cultivating a compassionate attitude towards others.
Acts of kindness
Simply being kind to others, receiving kindness and even witnessing kindness and compassion balances out and improves dopamine levels.
Listening to music can cause release of dopamine
Interestingly, you don’t even have to hear music to get this neurotransmitter flowing. Just the anticipation of listening can do that.
Balance dopamine levels by using your brain’s reward system
Dopamine acts as a survival mechanism by releasing energy when you’re faced with a great. Dopamine rewards us when our needs are met. We love dopamine surges because of the way they make us feel. Our ancestors were on a constant mission to survive. They received a dopamine surge every time they spotted a new patch of berries or a better hunting ground because it meant they’d live another day. Our ancestry aside, there are countless other healthy ways you can enjoy the hunt in modern life. You can forage for new music to download, you can hunt Pokemon, search for specialty ingredients to cook with, scour the web for the perfect pair of shoes to go with that dress. The act of both seeking and finding activates your reward circuits.
The research shows that it takes only 45 days to balance your dopamine levels for optimal functioning – so implement the suggestions above and within only a month and a half you’ll feel happier, healthier, have a brighter outlook, be more goal-orientated and have far better cognitive function.
Jayney Goddard is one of the world's leading experts in the field of complementary medicine and natural healthcare. Her passion is natural anti-ageing; Jayney teaches people how to rewind their biological clocks so that they are more resilient to the diseases of ageing. The strategies Jayney uses are grounded in excellent science and have been shown to halt and even reverse those conditions we associate with ageing.