healing hand
From the day you're born until the day you die, touch is a vital component of humans' emotional and physical health. Touch is a means of communicating compassion and trust. It recharges the immune system, aids in babies' growth, reduces stress, stimulates oxytocin and dopamine, and lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Plus, as an added bonus, it feels great! Yet many of us suffer from a touch deficit and are deprived of the essential contact that helps us bond with others.

On this episode of the Health and Wellness Show we'll discuss the importance of platonic touch, including hugs, cuddles, massages and Reiki. A wise psychologist once said, "We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth." Hopefully, this show will help you meet your touch quota!

Stay tuned for Zoya's Pet Health Segment where the topic will be the benefits of having a pet.

Running Time: 01:32:36

Download: MP3

Here's the transcript of the show:

Erica: Good afternoon and welcome to the Health and Wellness Show. Today is May 26. Coming live from all over the world, Tiffany, Doug, Elliot and myself Erica. Welcome all.

Tiffany: Hello.

Elliot: Hello.

Erica: So we apologize for the slight delay this morning. We're giving virtual hugs to all of our listeners. Glad you could join us and be patient. Today we are going to discuss healing hugs and therapeutic touch. From the day we're born until the day you die, touch is a vital component of human emotional and physical health. Touch is a means of communicating compassion and trust. It recharges the immune system, aids in babies' growth, reduces stress, stimulates oxytocin and dopamine and lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Plus, as an added bonus, it feels great. Yet many of us suffer from a touch deficit and are deprived of the essential contact that helps us bond with others.

So today on the show we're going to discuss the importance of platonic touch including hugs, cuddles, massages and Reiki and as a wise psychologist once said, we need four hugs a day for survival, we need eight hugs a day for maintenance, we need twelve hugs a day for growth. So hopefully today's show will help you meet your touch quota. So welcome all. We're going to go with our topic here and talk amongst ourselves.

Please if you have anything to add, comment in the chat, you can try and call in. We're not sure how our communication system is working, but here we are. What do you guys have to say? Did you get your hug today?

Tiffany: I did but it's too bad that we didn't do this show on January 21st because January 21st is national hug day. It was invented by some guy somewhere in 1986 or thereabouts and it became a national thing.

Erica: There are people throughout the world who have encouraged hugging and I'll just start with my little story. In India there's actually a woman called the Hugging Saint. Her name is Amma and she practices her darshan or meditations by giving hugs to the people around the world. Thousands of devotees come to her. She's considered a guru or a saint. In 1970 she started hugging people as her darshan and she's hugged over 33 million people.

Tiffany: That's a lot.

Erica: So in 2002 she was asked to what extent did she think her embraces actually helped the ills of the world, like "Do your hugs really do anything?" And she replied "I don't say that I can do 100 percent. Attempting to change the world completely is like trying to straighten the curly tail of a dog, but society takes birth from people, or life so by affecting individuals you can make changes in society and through that you can change the world. You cannot change it but you can make changes in yourself and for others. The fight in individual minds is responsible for wars so if you can touch people you can touch the world.

So you can look up Amma, the hugging saint in India.

Tiffany: Does she charge?

Erica: No. She started charitable foundations. During Hurricane Katrina her foundation raised over $1 million for the victims of Katrina. So she's doing her best. It says most of her last 30 years she has spent 20 hours a day hugging people.

Doug: That's a lot of hugs.

Tiffany: That's an extraordinary amount of hugs.

Doug: Just checking here. Can you guys hear me?

Tiffany: Yes.

Erica: Yes, we can hear you.

Doug: Okay, good. I was having my own technical difficulties here but they appear to be resolved.

Tiffany: Well apparently there's more than one way of hugging. I guess when we picture people hugging we picture them face-to-face with their arms wrapped around each other, sometimes with their butts pouched out because they don't want full body contact. But there's the back-to-front hug. I guess if you come up behind somebody and you give them a hug, it's a good way to show support and affection and it let's somebody know that you have their back in a way.

Then there's the bear hug and you give them a little squeeze, gently hopefully, so you don't break their ribs. People use this kind of hug when they want to display very strong affection. I picture this kind of hug like if you came across your friend or family member you haven't seen in a long time you give them a big bear hug. And then there's the cheek hug where you just kind of press your cheek up against somebody or maybe somebody who's disabled and can't really move their arms but you still want to give them a hug that way.

And then the side-to-side hug, kind of like casually strolling with somebody with your sides pushed up together. And then the heart-centred hug which is my favourite hug at least. Your chests are pressed together so you can get that energy coming from the heart because I know on that show we did on the heart, your heart puts out an energy field. I think it was 20 feet or so. So when your hearts are pressed together you can get those emotion rays from the heart I suppose.

Elliot: Hello.

Erica: Hi Elliot, we can hear you.

Elliot: Oh right, okay. I was speaking a minute ago but then I realized that I wasn't actually connected. So now I know why no one was responding to what I was saying. I was going to respond to the initial question about whether the hosts got enough hugs today and I think that I probably have gotten enough hugs for today. I probably did that this morning, but since I'm British if I wasn't in a relationship then this probably wouldn't have happened.

There was an article by Dr. Mercola. It was called Hugs that Heal - The Importance of Touch. He cites a study by a psychologist called Sydney Gerard and this psychologist set up a research study to measure how much friends touched each other in different countries. What he found was that in England within I think it was over an hour period, no one touched each other. The friends did not make any physical contact. In America they touched up to two times an hour, so that's a modest improvement. However in France, they touched up to 110 times per hour. Then it was topped off completely by Puerto Rico where those guys touch up to 180 times per hour! To me, in my British culture, it's kind of frowned upon to touch other people unless you're in a relationship and I just found that absolutely fascinating, how there's probably many people the Western world, because of our cultural practices, we literally can go very long periods of time without touching any other human being.

Doug: Yeah, and it's interesting too because I'm from Canada and I think Canadian culture actually inherited quite a bit from British culture and it's not a very touchy-feely type of culture either. But I find it interesting that that study showed that in France people were touching each other quite a bit because in France I just think about how the traditional French greeting is to give a kiss on each cheek. So already there's a greater intimacy there than there is in a lot of other countries. You don't do that in Canada. So it's almost something inherent in the culture where they're more open. There's an intimacy level there between friends to have that kind of contact as opposed to just a handshake or even a wave, something like that.

Tiffany: Or a fist bump like they do these days or that little "man hug", or they'll shake hands and they'll bring their hands together and then one arm will go around the other guy and it's kind of like a halfway hug.

Doug: I like that one.

Tiffany: The dude hug.

Erica: In the Polynesian culture, the greeting is to touch foreheads and to breathe in each other's "ha", their breath of life. So a little tidbit which I may or may not have shared in the past, when Westerners came to Hawaii and met the local people, the local people called them haoles which everyone thinks is a derogatory term for white person. It actually means "no breath" because they stuck out their hand to shake their hand instead of embracing and exchanging the breath of life.

Doug: Interesting.

Tiffany: So did they do that with everybody or just close friends and family?

Erica: Initially it was everybody. Now it has kind of fallen out of practice and it's more for traditional practice, similar to the statistics about Puerto Rico and Hawaii too; people will hug you, complete strangers. You see how some people are very taken aback by that. It's shocking to have this big man come up and hug you. Sometimes people aren't ready for that.

Tiffany: That is a little weird, for me personally, getting a hug from a stranger or a hug from somebody you just met. People want to hug me sometimes where I work just because they think that I helped them in some way. Sometimes that can be a little strange, depending on the person. Usually I just reserve my hugs for close friends and family but even then it's not very frequent. Sometimes we'll hug around here in greeting but where I come from, you hug if you haven't seen that person for a while and that's it.

Doug: Yeah, I can relate to that. In that same article that Elliot was just talking about, they quote the late Virginia Satir - hopefully I'm pronouncing her name right - who is a psychotherapist, generally acknowledged as a pioneer in family therapy. Just to give the idea of the importance of hugs, she said we need four hugs a day for survival, we need eight hugs a day for maintenance and we need 12 hugs a day for growth. How many people out there do you think are getting 12 hugs a day?

Tiffany: Maybe little kids and babies.

Doug: Yeah.

Erica: Or animals. They get all the hugs, dogs and cats.

Doug: Yeah, that's true.

Tiffany: There's been a lot of research about skin-to-skin contact with premature babies especially, but with babies period. It helps their brains make connections. It's pretty much essential to growth that babies need to be touched, almost constantly by their parents.

Doug: I don't know if they've actually done studies - it would be a pretty sick study if it was a study - but there was some observation that babies that were deprived of touch altogether died. They didn't survive at all.

Tiffany: Like babies in orphanages, crowded with a bunch of kids, who don't get a lot of touch.

Doug: Exactly.

Tiffany: They've done animal studies. I remember study where they deprived the little baby monkeys of their mother's' touch and gave them a little rolled up piece of carpet to cuddle and they just didn't thrive at all. They eventually died.

Elliot: There's a book called Touching - The Human Significance of the Skin and in one of the chapters they cite some unpublished research which showed that a study of 10 infants beginning at 10 weeks of age whose mothers were taught to stroke their infants' backs reported that at 6 months of age these infants have fewer sniffles, colds, vomiting and diarrhoea than the infants in the control group. So it seems that just this fairly natural thing that we kind of take for granted and comes really quite naturally to a mother, seems to have some significant effects on the child's immune system.

Tiffany: I don't know if you'd call it reseach but they've put into practice in Venezuela something they call kangaroo care where they had all these babies that were born prematurely and usually they keep the baby in an incubator and have lights on them and everything and you can reach into the incubator and touch the baby and stroke it. But they started allowing the parents to come in and actually take the baby out of the incubator and hold the baby up against their chests so the baby can feel their heartbeat and their skin is touching and the babies actually recover faster and they were released from hospital faster.

But, it seems like after a certain age in families - I guess it depends on the parenting style and how the parents were raised themselves - it seems like after a certain age, especially with little boys, that you get a lot of cuddles when you're a baby and toddler and as you grow up the touching just gradually fades away.

Doug: Yeah. I think that's true and I think that's a cultural thing. In one of the articles we were reading it was talking about how it seems like the touching gets handed off to the girls at a certain age. The boys no longer do it. They'll still do the rough and tumble play and that sort of thing but whereas you see young girls can be very affectionate together and hug or whatever, boys stop doing that at a certain age. I imagine that's probably a learned behaviour. At a certain age parents stop cuddling or hugging their kids or maybe only doing it once in awhile. It's kind of interesting. It's like the girls will continue with that sort of behaviour but for guys for some reason it's frowned upon.

Tiffany: I think a lot of that comes from puritanical ideas and maybe church indoctrination where any kind of touch is seen as some gateway to sexuality. There's can't be platonic touch where you just touch somebody because you care about them. Now people touch each other - especially when you consider men - women are afraid to hug men because they think they're going to prompt the man to go into some kind of sexual realm where they shouldn't, or men don't want to hug other men because they think it's gay, or men don't want to play with their kids and hug their kids because they don't want any insinuation that they might be a child molester or something weird like that. So there's a lot of taboos, I guess, that's tied around touching because people automatically tie it to sexual activity.

Doug: Yeah, even men and women. You don't see a lot of platonic touching between men and women. If a man and woman are showing affection by touching you assume that's a couple. I think it comes from this idea that men have absolutely no control over their sexual impulses at all so any kind of touch could be construed in the wrong way. I think there's probably good reason for that because I think there's probably a lot of men out there that that actually does apply to. But I think that other men who don't necessarily have that intention at all still will hold back from that kind of expression just because it can be perceived that way. It's the "I don't want to appear as though I'm making some sort of advance so I have to remain closed".

Tiffany: Well even sometimes within a couple relationship, there's not a lot of touching unless it leads to sex. I had a boyfriend once who thought it was weird to be out in public and hold my hand.

Doug: Well that's a bit extreme.

Tiffany: That was strange to me.

Doug: Yeah.

Erica: But again, it goes back to that upbringing. So maybe some of our co-hosts can share. I know when I was a child, I did not live in a huggy, touchy family at all. There was not a lot of embracing and I had two sisters and I think my dad never hugged us. It was always very separated in a lot of ways. Then my sisters and I weren't very huggy or loving towards each other either because nobody modelled that behaviour for us. When you go to church - we kind of talked a little bit about this last week with the role model thing - they start the church service with "Well now everyone give your neighbour a hug!" and there was always this little bit of "Oh, that's kind of awkward." I'm just speaking from personal experience. That hugging was never modelled for me in the family situation that I grew up in. So I'm not a real huggy person.

Tiffany: Well that whole church thing is kind of like a forced hug. You can't force that kind of thing. It has to be spontaneous. You have to want to hug that person. I would never go up to somebody and just hug them just because, not that I necessarily would ask for permission, but you kind of get a sense of who is huggable and who is not within your circle.

Doug: You could end up with assault charges there if you're not careful.

Erica: But kind of in contrast to that, my husband's family is exactly the opposite and his mother had five children and she hugged them all constantly and they're all very loving towards each other and when we see her, all she wants to do is sit with you on the couch and hug and kiss you. So for me it's this whole new thing that it's okay to do that and "I love you, I love you" and hug, hug, hug and she'll cry and she's so emotional and it's this feeling that you get from her that she genuinely just wants to connect with you on a deep level.

Elliot: I had a similar experience Erica and it probably is an inter-generational thing. So maybe the parents don't experience the touch, they don't have that affection and you're then not equipped with the tools to be able to provide that to your child unless you consciously work through that. And so I had a similar kind of thing and I kind of feel uncomfortable hugging people who I'm not really close to. But I think it's kind of sad because it stops someone from being able to connect with people on a deeper level. There are things that someone can do to overcome that.

Doug: It is unfortunate and I can relate to that as well. My family wasn't particularly huggy. I think there were hugs given out on occasion, to comfort the child if they hurt themselves or something like that but it wasn't a common all-the-time practice. And sometimes I am in situations where a group is meeting or something and they start hugging each other and it's like "Oh, okay, we're doing hugs. I guess I'm hugging." It's not that big a deal or anything but there is that hesitation there in myself, like "Oh, okay. I guess we're doing hugs".

Tiffany: I didn't come from a huggy family either. I remember when I was around nine years old I used to trick my mother into touching me. I used to act like my back was hurting so I'd let her rub something on my back just to get some touching, which is sad.

Elliot: Yeah.

Erica: Well I can relate to that as a parent. When my youngest was young I had to lay down with her every night and go to sleep because she was afraid of the dark and she'd say "Rub my belly. Rub my belly." So I'd rub her belly and then I'd stop and she would take my hand and rub her belly, because she was asleep because I'd always fall asleep with her every night. So I think that my kids taught me how to be more that way, even though I didn't know how to be that way as a child, when I had children of my own. And I did read a lot about the importance of touch, when babies are little. In Indonesia for the first year of life a baby is never put on the ground. It's constantly passed around and it never touches the ground. It's constantly embraced and it's constantly hugged and it's building that support, that foundation where the child grows up feeling secure and loved, but just the physical touch.

Tiffany: Yeah, just physical contact with people, not necessarily being embraced all the time, but sitting on the couch close to somebody and you don't have that space that you have to have between yourselves in Western culture. Your legs are actually touching or your shoulders are touching or some part of your body is in contact with somebody else.

Doug: I think about movie theatres where as soon as the theatre is filling up and suddenly you realize that somebody's inevitably going to be sitting next to you and you're like "Oh man!" You've got that little armrest thing that is like this natural barrier there so it's not too bad. But yeah.

Elliot: I totally agree with that by the way. I was just going to say that there's an innate drive to get this physical contact with others. It's sort of like children are born with this but then as we've already said it's gradually taken away from them in the culture or whatever. I see this in my school because I work in a school and I see the children that I work with, between five and seven years old. Interestingly it's a special needs school so it operates quite a bit differently from a mainstream school.

So at our school it's something that's promoted, this idea of touching your friends and hugging and sitting on laps, all of the things that children want to do when they're young. In mainstream school my experience of that was the opposite. It was almost like I felt - how can I say it - it's not fostered in mainstream education. It's almost like the whole system indoctrinates it out of children. When they get to a certain age they learn that you are separate from everyone else and you should stick to this way, if that makes any sense. Sorry, I've lost my train of thought.

Doug: No, that makes sense.

Erica: No, I agree with you on that because when I started teaching school and I worked with that same age we would always hug the kids and they just naturally come hug your leg and hold onto you. And for the most part I'd say most of the kids were that way. You'd always have the one that was very standoffish and it was encouraged. It was never looked at as weird or creepy or anything and just in the last 10 or 15 years there's actually rules in school now according to people that I worked with, that you could not do that anymore, that you had to not encourage that. I understand in a sense because of all the weird sexual abuse things and things like that but you really miss out on bonding with those children because they're going to learn better if they feel like they're in a safe space with their nurturer that's providing them with not only learning your ABC's or whatever, but touching each other, especially when they're crying or they need to be consoled.

Tiffany: I remember when I was in the fourth grade we had a teacher and I forget her name - this was back in the '80s though - but whenever we would go to our classroom somewhere else in the building we would have to line up and everybody wanted to be in the front because whoever was in the front, the teacher would hold their hand as they were walking down the hallway. And everybody wanted to be in the front all the time. But now there are certain schools that have "no hugging" policies, the kids can't hug each other, two girlfriends can't hug each other. So now you're forced to just roughhouse or do some kind of play with somebody. You can't hold their hand or touch them or stroke their hair or anything like that.

Erica: And teasing becomes the mode of...

Tiffany: Showing that you like somebody.

Erica: Yeah.

Tiffany: You have to tease them.

Doug: It really seems to be very connected with trust as well. I'm thinking about how everybody has this kind of personal space, right? And apparently they've done studies and found that different cultures have different allowance for people in their space. A friend of mind travelled to India and was telling me about how the idea of having personal space is almost not even a thing. People standing in line-ups are touching each other and will even lean on each other. These are strangers in a line for a bank or something like that and they'll be leaning on each other because they're tired. And these are people who have never met before as opposed to some place like where I grew up in Canada there's a much greater distance that is a comfortable space that someone is allowed in before a person will feel uncomfortable if there's a stranger in your space.

So on public transit or something like that where you're squeezed in, it's an uncomfortable experience even though you're not physically uncomfortable in any way, just being in that close proximity. It really is tied a lot to trust and how much you trust other people in general, whether they be strangers or friends or whatever. If somebody is within that comfortable space and they're not somebody that you necessarily know or somebody that you're comfortable with, it all comes down to "I don't trust this person being this close to me".

I know for a lot of people, particularly having somebody behind you is quite uncomfortable, I guess because you can't see them so you don't know what they're up to. I also wonder - sorry, I'm going on a bit here - I also wonder if this discouraging of touch and hugs is actually fostering a distrust, that it's not necessarily that this culture doesn't really trust each other so they don't allow for a lot of people in their space, it's more like the opposite; because that kind of thing is discouraged people tend to trust each other less.

Tiffany: Yeah, I think that's true.

Elliot: What's interesting about that is when you touch another person, skin-to-skin contact, in fact I think it's even between clothes, you can touch them on their clothes and you do actually get a significant increase in the hormone called oxytocin. So oxytocin is the hormone which is commonly understood to be the love hormone that bonds the mother and their child. So regarding what you were saying Doug, it makes perfect sense. If you are in a situation where you are touching someone else then you are naturally going to be producing those hormones which facilitate that bond between the two people and therefore increase the feeling of safety and trust and overall well-being.

Tiffany: There have been some observations that even amongst strangers, even in restaurants, if the waiter or the waitress touches the people at the table she'll get a bigger tip. People are more likely to return money they found on the street if someone has touched them before. People are more likely to help other people. It's easier to sell cars if the sales person touches you while he's trying to sell the car. And people who were about to take a math test scored higher on the math test if they were given some touch beforehand.

Doug: That's really interesting. I think it can go both ways because there certainly are people out there who are not comfortable at all with being touched and I think that car salesman would find himself in a bad situation if he tried to pull that on just everybody who walked through the door. I think we get an idea of this. Like you were saying before Tiffany, you kind of have a sense of who is comfortable with that sort of thing and who isn't. If somebody seems very closed and their body language is saying "leave me alone" then obviously you're not going to touch them because you want to get a bigger tip. Or maybe you would, but I don't think it would work.

Erica: But also when people just put their hand on your shoulder as a consoling gesture or in a work environment like one of our chatters was talking about. It's funny because I work in a spa where they do massages and I work at the desk and throughout the day the massage therapists will come up to you and they'll ask you a question and they'll start massaging you on your back. For me, because I shared that I'm not a super touchy person, at first I was like "Okay, this is kind of weird". Now, I wait for them to come out because they're going to spend five minutes massaging me as they ask me a question about their next client. It's actually created this harmonious environment where we all work together to get done what needs to get done in the day.

Tiffany: Well I have a similar experience with a chiropractor that I know. When I first met him he gave me this - like "Dude! What are you doing?!" "Why are you hugging me like that?!" Then I noticed that he hugged everybody and I thought "Wait a minute, he is a chiropractor." So he just goes around hugging people all the time and then the more he does it the more you start smiling like "Okay, yeah, I'll hug you!"

Doug: I've known some huggy people in my past too. At first it was kind of awful. Oddly enough, one of the people who was quite huggy was a massage therapist. So maybe they're just more primed to touch. A lot of the articles we looked at said that a lot can be communicated in touch. Even some studies that looked at it said that more could be communicated by touch than by words. There was one study in particular where they had the people in a situation where they couldn't see the other persons and they would stick their arm through a hole or something like that, and the person would touch them and try to communicate a specific feeling. I don't remember the exact figures but it was up to 83% or something like that, was successfully communicated. They couldn't even see the person's face and apparently those figures are very close to situations where a person can see the other person's face.

So the idea of touch being able to actually communicate makes you really realize how deprived we are by being in these cultures that don't embrace touching, the idea that you could actually communicate a specific feeling just through touch.

Tiffany: It's funny that you bring that up because we've been doing Reiki and I got Reiki one night. It was the night before I had to have my cat euthanized so I was thinking about him a lot that night and I wasn't telling anybody that but I got Reiki and two of the people who gave me the Reiki said that they felt like they wanted to cry or they felt an intense feeling of sadness while they were giving the Reiki. So yeah, I think you can communicate a lot of feelings with touch and you don't even have to say anything.

Doug: That's really sad.

Erica: It crosses language barriers too. Like this woman Amma that hugs these millions of people. She knew as a child that she would console people who were weeping and crying and just give them a hug and that was it, and then another person and then another person and she realized that in her lifetime this was her purpose, to just do that. She doesn't necessarily get anything out of it but she just shares that connection with people. They don't speak the same language, they're not from the same culture or anything.

Tiffany: Well she probably gets something out of it on a physical level that she's probably not even aware of because hugging has been shown to boost the immune system. It reduces cortisol, increases oxytocin and dopamine and it can actually lower your heart rate and your blood pressure, just by touching somebody. Probably the more you touch or the longer you touch, at least 10 or 20 seconds, the more benefit you get from it which makes it all the more sad that more people aren't being touched on a regular basis, like people in nursing homes. They have to bring dogs or cats in once a week or something for some kind of pet therapy when really the staff could be touching people. I'm sure they do. I know I touch my patients in my work, but touching them more than just "Okay, it's time for your bath". Touching them just when you're sitting there talking to them is important too.

Doug: Or just touching each other. I wonder if that is discouraged at all. Why not have the residents actually - I don't know. I guess it comes back to that cultural thing, the residents just stay in their own space and don't really touch each other.

Tiffany: A lot of it has to do with immobility. Some are confined to bed, some are in wheelchairs. There are certain activities where you can get people together and provide an opportunity for them to touch each other but for the people who can't get up and move, they need people to come in there, real people, not just dogs and cats. That's good too, but you need touching from animals and people.

Elliot: In the social care sector, the way it's going in the UK they actually are now discouraging employees from making physical contact with the people who are in care. I remember going to some training about it a couple of years ago and apparently it bypasses professional boundaries. It's important to keep those boundaries. And even when the support worker sees it as necessary or sees it as appropriate, they're still discouraged from doing it. I found that something really hard because I used to work with adults with learning disabilities and quite often they would come over to you for a hug, especially the ones with Downs syndrome.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Elliot: They're kind of renowned for that and it seems like those sort of barriers don't really exist so much. That's just in my experience with the ones I've worked with. So it's difficult when you're in the situation and when you start to understand some of the physiological benefits and the psychological benefits of touch and you're in that situation where you almost don't have a choice, you can't do it or else you risk losing your job, it's really sad to see because it's kind of like taking the humane aspect out of the type of work that you're doing and rendering it to simply like a business, a service. It's sad.

Tiffany: Well it's more than just a service. It's connection between two human beings. I know they're trying to cover their asses and avoid lawsuits because there have been incidents where care workers have sexually abused people in their care. So it's a case of a couple of bad apples just ruining the whole bunch for everybody else and they're taking that away when really there's a benefit to it and it shouldn't be taken away just because a few people go out of bounds with it.

Erica: I wonder how the health overall, especially in countries like the US and the UK, would be better if this small idea was actually practiced. Look at the rate of illness that we have in the United States. If there was that component, that connection - I think the term is psychoimmunology.

Elliot: Psychoneuroimmunology.

Erica: Thank you. But this idea that your physical health is directly related to your mental health and your emotional health. Like you were saying Tiffany, just touching people in a hospital setting or holding their hand or even premature babies, their survival rate is exponential if the mother comes in and actually holds them, skin-to-skin every day as opposed to leaving them in an incubator and hoping that the medical miracle will save this child's life. It's not going to happen that way.

Tiffany: One of the chatters brought up that they are bringing in complementary therapies like massage and Reiki and they are doing that, especially in hospices. I know when I worked for hospice they had massage therapists that went around. But again it's pretty sad that people have to resort to professionals, people they have to pay to touch them.

Doug: Yeah.

Tiffany: I mean it's all well and good. A good massage is worth every penny but you wonder if that need would be met better in the home by family members.

Doug: Well there are cases even of people who are just so craving human touch that they'll make up ailments and go to the doctor's office just so they can be examined and actually come into contact with somebody, which is really sad. Have we really come to this?! There's also the idea that there are these services where you can go and it's a hug service or a cuddle room or something like that where people can go, like on your lunch hour and cuddle with somebody in a platonic way, to pay for a service. It's so sad when you think about it, that people have to resort to these things.

Erica: We had an interesting article on SOTT under Don't Panic! Lighten Up! back in 2007 and I'll put the link in the notes here in a minute, but it's about this man in Sydney who was called the free hugs guy. He used to go out with a sign in a mall in Sydney and it said "Free Hugs" and it was interesting how he came about doing this. He said he was having this struggle in his life. He was alone, he didn't have any family or friends so he figured he'd go out and just experiment with it. He said it was funny in high school the teachers said that he wasn't going to be the humanitarian type, right?

So he would go out and the first time he waited about 15 minutes and then a woman came up to him and said "Oh my dog just died the same day as my daughter died" and he gave her a hug and all of a sudden it became popular. It went viral on YouTube and it was viewed almost 14 million times. His name was Juan Mann. That's the name he gave himself - One Man.

Doug: Yeah.

Erica: And he said basically he realized he could do this service and that it was a humanitarian thing. Again, this happened several years ago but I just found the article interesting because he said that his junk food emotions filled a need in people, that they just need someone to listen to them instead of calling the helpline or seeking professional help. It's just those few moments of interaction gave them exactly what they needed from this free hug guy. And at one point Sydney tried to ban him saying it was a violation of safety laws and all these things and over 10,000 people signed a petition to keep him there giving free hugs. So there's a need.

Tiffany: Juan Mann saves the world with hugs!

Doug: I watched another video actually where there was a guy doing a social experiment and he was just out in the park and people passing by and he asked if they could give a hug, kind of thing, and they would give a hug like Tiff was talking about before, butts out so we're not connecting too much. And then he'd say "So how was that?" and they were like "Okay, that's fine." Then he's like "Okay, now I want you to give me a real hug, put what you've got into it. Put something into this hug!" So then they would give him a hug, like a bear hug or a really good, decent hug for a few seconds, not just a brief tap and then separate. And he asked "Well how was that?" Then people were like "Oh yeah, that felt really good! That actually felt like something there. It felt like there was an emotional connection" and that kind of thing. It was hardly like a placebo controlled study or anything like that but it was interesting to see the difference.

So there is what you might call a fake hug but...

Tiffany: I would.

Doug: Okay. There you go. It's a fake hug.

Tiffany: It's basically your shoulders or the top part of your body touching and nothing else. And maybe a couple of pats on the back and then okay, move back.

Doug: Yeah. Exactly. And then there's a more sincere hug where you're actually putting something into it. Those kind of hugs do tend to feel good because it's releasing dopamine and serotonin and endorphins and that sort of thing. There actually is a very real physiological response there. So it makes sense that when you actually connect on that level it's like "Oh, that actually felt good."

Elliot: On the topic of the physiology behind it, a lot of the benefits are supposedly due to its effect on the nervous system. So it releases certain chemicals and neurotransmitters and stuff and this feels really good. But from what I understand, it actually goes quite a lot deeper than that. It can help to explain why bodywork modalities like massage and osteopathy, chiropractic, all of these things can have such amazing effects. And it actually comes down to a very basic substance that makes up your body and in textbooks if you look at diagrams of the human body, the substance is completely negated, it's neglected, it's thrown away as if it doesn't really do anything, and that's collagen.

The connective tissue that connects every fabric of the body together is the most abundant protein in the body and this connective tissue has some amazing properties. It's electrically conductive. So essentially what happens, when someone touches you, touches your skin, it doesn't have to be too deep, just like a hug, what that does is create something called a piezoelectric current. Piezoelectricity is basically mechanical pressure, so pushing something in, producing a local charge and so when you consider that this fascial network that connects every single aspect of the body to each bit, when you apply this pressure to that system, you are producing this electric current.

This has been theorized. There was a guy called Dr. Robert Becker. He spoke a lot about this. He was one of the first people to find that collagen had this semiconducting property. But there are quite a few researchers coming out now theorizing that this is one of the main control systems of the body. So you've got different layers. You've got the nervous system and you've got all of these things that medicine studies, but then you've got this underlying, more primitive electrical system and this essentially operates via the fascia, the connective tissue.

So say if someone's got some illness, say they've broken their leg or something and they go for a massage and they think it really feels good and it actually really helps them, that's not just psychological. Mainstream medicine will say "Oh, okay massage might make you feel good, it might reduce stress and therefore that's how it works." But what they really neglect is this whole electrical nature to the human body and that by just simply placing your hands on someone else's body you are essentially increasing this - how can you say it - the efficiency of this electrical system, almost. I think it's a lot more complex than that but it would take a lot of time to go through all the evidence and stuff. But I'm just saying that because it seems that there are many layers to why touch is clearly so beneficial for the body.

Erica: I was reading in our notes somewhere about these tiny egg-shaped pressure centres called Pacinian corpuscles. We'll just call them PCs. They can sense touch and they are in constant contact with the brain through the vagus nerve.

Tiffany: So if you are touch-deprived or touch blind, there's also the opposite effect like maybe those nerve connections aren't as deep and you're experiencing deficits and you can't really put your finger on what is wrong because those connection aren't made. Yes, pun intended.

Erica: But that makes sense, why once a person does get one massage or therapeutic touch or Reiki treatment or any of these "alternative" therapies, that most of them go back for it. It's almost like you have to, especially if you weren't raised with or aren't used to it, that initial touch stimulates something and you want more.

Tiffany: And then there's the extreme form of this, called tactile emotional synesthesia where people can feel emotions just by touching certain objects. There was one woman they talked about in an article. She would touch denim and it would make her nauseous and make her want to throw up. Or she would touch silk and it would make her feel really good or just different types of objects she would touch would create these emotions in her and they theorized that certain parts of the brain, certain connections hadn't been pruned like they usually are as you're growing up and developing so those connections are really hardwired in those people and for some reason they can feel all of these emotions just by touching things.

Erica: I think that would happen in people who are blind too.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Doug: The whole synesthesia thing is very interesting. There are people out there who can hear colours or have a colour associated with a number or all numbers. It's really interesting. There's also the hypersensitivity too. I used to know a girl who was an artist but she was really hypersensitive to colour and certain colours together. If it was a bad combination, like a clashing colour combination, would actually cause her pain.

Elliot: I'd be interested to know how that relates to colour therapy because there are lots of people who talk about using different colours because it's essentially just electromagnetic energy and it's deciphered by the body and it's seen as a colour but perhaps the information that each colour carries with it, maybe there's some sort of defect in the translation system or whatever and perhaps it has that very physical effect.

Doug: Well apparently there is some - what's the word I'm looking for? There are similarities across people who have these conditions, like people who have a colour associated with a number. Apparently the colours will be the same for everybody. Apparently everybody see the number 4 as orange. So I don't know if there's some kind of objective thing there. Maybe these guys are just sensing something that we can't sense for some reason. But then the person who touches denim and feels nauseous, I don't know. That one doesn't really make much sense.

Tiffany: It's like cutting out 90% of an average person's wardrobe.

Doug: If I couldn't wear jeans anymore I wouldn't have any pants left. Interesting thing, the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine says they've carried out about 100 different studies on touch alone and they said that they had significant effects in many of these studies including faster growth in premature babies, reduced pain, decreased autoimmune disease symptoms, lowered glucose levels in children with diabetes and improved immune systems in people with cancer. There's actually quite a bit of interesting research on people out there who are undergoing conventional treatment for cancer who are also getting some kind of touch therapy or something along those lines. Apparently it can help to lower the side effects from the chemo or the radiation or whatever they happen to be undergoing, to a significant degree.

Tiffany: There was also some research done on stroke victims. If they're touched regularly or stroked regularly they can regain sensation in their arm or leg that's been affected by the stroke.

Doug: That's amazing.

Erica: Well dare I say there's a side to that, when certain people touch you it creeps you out. You get bad energy?

Tiffany: Yes.

Erica: Anyone have any experience with that?

Tiffany: Usually it doesn't even get to the point where they have to touch me. You can just sense the creepiness just oozing off of them before it even gets there and you don't want them to touch you. Those are the people like "Ugh, stay away from me." I've had that with a couple of people.

Doug: Were they men in both situations?

Tiffany: No.

Doug: Okay. That's interesting because my immediate thought was like ulterior motives kind of thing, or something along those lines.

Tiffany: Yeah, I consider that something different. You know when someone is trying to perv out on you. No, this is just an entirely different sensation. It's like a feeling of disgust or yuck or "I don't want to be anywhere near you".

Doug: Yeah, that's interesting. I've had the opposite experience. That same massage therapist I was telling you about before, one time I just met her on the street. She was explaining something or something like that and she took my hand to show me. Maybe she was talking about a massage technique or something like that, and as soon as she touched my hand there was some kind of - I don't even know what it was - it was almost like an electric spark or something but there was no pain involved. It was a zzzzz kind of thing. I noticed it and then she was like "Oh, hmm. Hello!" So she obviously noticed it as well.

Elliot: Wow.

Doug: Yeah, so that was kind of a weird thing as well.

Tiffany: There are those rare occasions where there's somebody and you're like "Oh, I just want to hug you!" Not just little babies that are so cute or puppies or kittens or something, you just want to squeeze them. Other people just exude such warmth that when they hug you it's like "Ah that was just fantastic!"

Doug: Yeah. It's funny though, going back to the creep-out factor, it's the whole thing about having somebody in your space too. You brought up earlier Tiff the whole thing about the heart as actually being a sensory organ and things within its field it can detect in a way. So I wonder if somebody was just giving off bad vibes in general and they come within that field, that you're able to sense that.

Erica: I think it's very plausible, for sure.

Elliot: Well we did that show on it a while back, didn't we?

Doug: Yeah we did.

Elliot: Some of that research was absolutely fascinating in that the whole idea of our personal space is actually our electromagnetic field and how when someone enters that maybe there's some kind of assessment that goes on, on some level. It's certainly not necessarily conscious but maybe there's some assessment of the energy that they're giving off. I don't know whether that' electromagnetically or maybe it's even something completely different, but it seems that there's always a physical component to it. I know it's that anyway. It actually feels as if something's going on in my system, that something has entered. It's not just psychological.

Erica: I agree. It's almost like - I hate to sound cliché but Bob Marley has a line in his song that says "Who feels it knows it" and I always think about that because you're in a strange situation, say you're lost and you're looking for direction and you need something and I personally will scan the environment and almost see "No, I'm not going to ask that person. Oh maybe I'll ask that person" and it's almost becomes like a honing instrument, without even the physical touch, just the energetic exchange. And maybe that comes from being a parent too, like when you're in a public place and you get the feeling from the bad person. It doesn't have to be a man or a woman necessarily but you say "I think I'm just going to steer clear of those people and keep my kids away from those people too." So I think it's almost like a survival mechanism that - hate to sound cheesy - that we've lost touch with.

Elliot: No pun intended.

Tiffany: Well if you consider that the skin is your body's largest organ and it's pretty much the meat sack that we're walking around in and it's our primary interface with the world outside of us. It separates our inner world from the outer world and there's got to be some kind of cosmic something, spiritual, whatever that interacts with that in some kind of way that I can't even put words to but y'all get what I'm saying.

Erica: I get what you're saying. Yeah, I feel it. I feel it.

Doug: Do you mean that the skin can detect cosmic radiation or something like that?

Tiffany: Yeah. Why not?

Doug: Sure.

Erica: Or like Carlos Castaneda talks about, the luminous cocoon.

Tiffany: Sometimes when I picture people, just having this conversation, I just picture these waves of energy coming off of people and that energy can be good or it can be bad or neutral or whatever but I picture everyone as having something coming off of them.

Erica: Well that's where the fake huggy-huggy thing comes in because really you pick that up and then that person wants to hug you or there's that social responsibility to hug and you're kind of creeped out by it.

Elliot: What you were just talking about, the sort of field of light or whatever that's emitted from people's' bodies, well there's quite a lot of research to say that that is actually an objective fact in that there are things called biophotons. They are released from various different parts of the cells, mainly the nucleus, so the bit that holds all of the genes. It's also released when you metabolize food, when you produce energy. So you actually are releasing all of the time, I think it's 10,000 times per second, you're releasing UV light and you're also releasing visible light and you're also releasing infrared light and everything in between.

There was a really good paper that I was reading for the show and it was talking about regression therapy but I think it also applies to touch therapy as well in that when two people are communicating in some way there is a distinct release of light and that light is sensed by the other person and I would imagine since the skin is absorbent of light there is some sort of energy transfer there. It's been shown for instance, a Reiki practitioner or some alternative healing practitioner, by directing their intention, they can send light to someone across the room. That has direct physiological effects on the person across the room.

This kind of sounds a bit woo-woo because it can't really be explained. The scientific establishment would call it nonsense but nonetheless there seems to be something to do with light in this. I don't really know if anyone truly understands it but the reason that made me think of this Tiff is because you just said that you imagine people with a ball of light around them or something and I think that that is the case. And I also think that when you touch someone there is a transfer of light. There's so much evidence to say that that is what happens that it sounds a bit crazy but it's backed up by a lot of research.

Doug: So they've actually done studies where they've seen the effects of this light transfer kind of thing across the room?

Elliot: I've got a book on it upstairs and there's loads of research on it. If anyone's interested one of the main researchers is called Fritz Albert Popp. He was the guy who discovered biophotons, the fact that biological systems release light. He theorizes that it's to communicate information across the body, across all spans. We were talking about collagen earlier and collagen is not only electrically conductive but it's also light conductive and some scientists learned this and they thought "Well why would collagen conduct light?" Then you put this together with Fritz Popp's work and everyone who's come after him and their idea is that light is released from the cells containing certain information and that can then be essentially passed on to other parts of the body or to other people to communicate that information.

So there is research on the effects of intention and meditation and how that affects the light transfer from one person to another person. I haven't looked at this research for a long time so I can't cite any specific studies. I can put it on the forum. There's a lot of information out there. I just thought that was really interesting.

Doug: Yeah.

Tiffany: It sounds fascinating.

Doug: Yeah. Very cool.

Tiffany: So what can we do to get more touch in our lives? We can have Reiki circles where we do Reiki exchanges. We can pay for massages. What else?

Doug: Try and become a more huggy person.

Tiffany: Yeah. Be the hug that you want to be in the world.

Doug: Be the hug you want to see in the world. It's a tricky question.

Tiffany: Because of some of the emotional hurdles that you have to overcome, your own discomfort or inhibition or whatever, just to reach out and put your hand on somebody because maybe in the back of your mind you're thinking "Oh, do they want me to touch them or are they going to think that I'm weird?"

Doug: You can start off slow, maybe go with people you know who would be cool with hugs, that kind of thing and then get to the point where you're like that chiropractor who was a huggy guy. Somebody in our chat room recommended hugging trees.

Erica: I was just going to comment on that because I do that often and the reason I do it is because we've talked about grounding before in this show and being outside and I find I get overstimulated by being around a lot of people, in your job or in a social environment and that hugging a tree helps ground me in a sense. My secret's out now. But I tell people at work after a very intense day that if you see me out in the forest hugging the tree it's just because I need a little grounding. I'm not afraid to admit it anymore. I don't know, it's calming and I know now that I need to hug other people more and not just trees.

Elliot: Well if you think about it, who are we to differentiate between human beings and trees in the sense that they are still living and maybe we can't have a conversation with a tree - or you could have a conversation with a tree but it wouldn't be a very interesting conversation.

Tiffany: Speak for yourself.

Elliot: How do you know that when you hug a tree that that tree is not also providing some of the things that a human being would provide you with? And there is that energy transfer again because again, we share a lot in common with trees when you look at basic biology. I guess from a more philosophical perspective you could say that every single thing in this existence is alive. So maybe there is some sort of energy transfer.

Tiffany: Well it looks like we have a caller. Caller you're on the line.
Brent: Hi, how's it going guys? Can you hear me?

Tiffany: Yeah. What's the name caller?

Brent: Brent, I'm from New York.

Tiffany: Brent, why do you sound like a chipmunk?

Brent: Am I stuttering?

Tiffany: No, your voice just sounds really chipmunkesqe, but share. Go ahead.

Brent: I heard what Erica was talking about, how she gets an intuitive feeling about people instantly. I've been reading Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago and there's a passage in here where he describes that very same thing. So he's locked up and in a gulag, in a prison, and he says that:
"But although I felt open-hearted towards my new friends and although not many words have been exchanged in the few minutes since I joined them, I sense something alien in this frontline soldier who was my contemporary and as far as I was concerned clammed up immediately and forever. I had not heard the word stool pigeon nor had I learned that there had to be one such stool pigeon in each cell and yet I had not yet time to think things over and conclude that I did not like this fellow, Georgi Karamenko. But a spiritual relay, a sensor relay had clicked inside me. It had closed him off to me for good and all. I would not bother to recall this event if it had not been only one of its kind. But soon with astonishment and alarm, I became aware of the work of this internal sensor relay as a constant inborn trait. The years passed and I lay on the same bunks, marched in the same formations and worked in the same work details with hundreds of others and always that secret sensor relay, for whose creation I deserved not the least bit of credit, worked even before I remembered it was there or worked at the very first sight of a human face and eyes, at the first sound of a voice so that I opened my heart to that person either fully or just the width of a crack or else shut myself off from him completely. This was so consistently unfailing that all efforts of the state security officers to employ stool pigeons began to seem to me as insignificant, as being pestered by gnats."
Yeah, so I thought that was an interesting point, that you had brought it up and I had just read it.

Erica: Thank you for sharing that.

Brent: No problem.

Tiffany: Yeah, I think people lose that kind of gut feeling or intuition or sensory ability over time with all the social indoctrination and maybe being in that kind of situation when you're in a camp and you pretty much don't have anything to rely on but your own self and your own cunning and intellect and intuition, those things probably get strengthened after a while.

Brent: Yeah, and Solzenitzen seems to be a pretty smart guy. He was pretty well read. He has failings as anyone else does but he had this immediate, visceral, internal sense of whether he could open up fully to someone and divulge all of his secrets or just let them in a little bit or whether or not that person was not to be trusted whatsoever. I think oftentimes in modern society especially, we're all running "be nice" programs and we get a certain internal visceral reaction where we just immediately and without explanation don't like someone and we can't really figure out why, we tend to disregard that feeling when in fact it's sort of there as an evolutionary leftover, something we should take very seriously.

Tiffany: That's why I don't like it. You're in a family situation or something or you take your child to somebody's house and you force them to give that person a hug, you're completely disregarding his or her feelings about who they want to touch them or not. I think that's a big way in which we lose that sense of who we can trust and who we can't.

Brent: Yeah, it's interesting. But that's all I wanted to share.

Tiffany: Alright. Thanks for calling.

Erica: Maybe put up a link to the book so others can read the passage if they like.

Brent: Oh yeah, no problem. I'll find it on Amazon.

Elliot: Thanks Brent.

Brent: Bye-bye.

Erica: One of my children was that way all through childhood. There were people that she just really did not like and I never forced her to interact with those people but it's almost like she became a meter for us on who to be wary about. It was be an instant reaction, even to the point where she would act out in very strange ways because this person was almost triggering her in a sense.

But back to what we can do. Giving and receiving reiki too is almost like building that ability to see that flow of energy, practicing it and giving support when people need it, especially if you are in a work environment or as we talked about earlier in the show, maybe you're at a school and those things are discouraged, but even just touching someone's hand or touching someone's shoulder, being there to share, ask "Are you okay?" and let them have the opportunity to release that like the huggy guy from Sydney, just that opportunity for that cathartic moment.

Tiffany: Yeah. I don't know if this is a cultural thing but I like playing in people's hair and doing their hair and I don't think I get enough of that, so I'm going to try and do some more of that too. It's not like you're just touching their hair. You're touching their head and their ears and you're moving their shoulders to position them in the way that you want so you can reach their head more easily.

Erica: So anything that our other co-hosts would like to add? We're going to start to wrap up here. We have a pet health segment that ties into our topic today.

Tiffany: We seem to have lost Doug.

Erica: Elliot? Anything?

Elliot: What can I add? Okay just to remind everyone who's listening, it's probably not a good idea to just go walk down the street and just start hugging random people. You can upset people that way. You can put yourself in danger so best not to do that. I think on a practical level maybe just the people that you know, as has already been said, your friends or your family, just try and make a concerted effort to give them more physical affection as long as that's reciprocated. Gain consent first if you have to, if it's that situation or maybe it will just come naturally. I personally, since doing the research from the show, have made not a new year's resolution because it's halfway through the year, but a resolution

Tiffany: It's an old year's resolution.

Elliot: Yeah, exactly. It's a mid-year's resolution. And that's in my life to try and start showing people more physical affection because I know that that's personally kind of like a semi-issue for me. It brings up feelings of discomfort and maybe possibly anxious but knowing how important this is, it's like I'm just going to consciously try to work through that and try to show the people that I love some physical affection because they deserve it. I encourage all listeners to try and do that as well.

Tiffany: I'm with you Elliot.

Doug: Yeah, I'll give you a big hug next time I see you.

Elliot: That's exactly what I was thinking. We could schedule hugs every couple of hours.

Doug: That's a good idea.

Erica: We could have a hugathon.

Tiffany: And don't forget group hugs. Group hugs are fun.

Erica: Alright so if everyone's ready we'll go to the pet health segment here.

Zoya: Hello and welcome to the pet health segment of the Health and Wellness Show. Today I would like to share with you a Ted Talk by Dr. Rustin Moore where he shares about the power of the human/animal bond and the benefits of having a pet. And there are definitely a lot of benefits. Enjoy.
Rustin Moore: How many of you grew up with a pet or have one now? Wow! That looks about right. Actually over 70% of people in America have at least one pet or companion animal. In fact kids are more likely to live with a pet than they are with their biological father or sibling and children 7-8 years of age rank pets higher than people as providers of comfort, self-esteem and as confidant.

Animals are such agreeable friends. They ask no questions. They pass no criticism. So wrote George Elliot. That's a big reason we love them so much. Oh-oh. Oh my gosh! I don't know who stuck this photo in there of me back in the day when I had some pretty long hair. But anyway, back then when I was growing up in rural West Virginia I had all types of pets and animals and when I became a veterinarian and equine surgeon, I have treated countless animals in my career. However one patient sticks out.

While on faculty at LSU I treated a very special patient, a pony named Molly. After Hurricane Katrina, Molly because stranded in a barn for nearly 10 days before she was rescued, adopted and taken to a nearby farm. Unfortunately about two months later she was attacked by a dog and the power of the dog's bite crushed the blood vessels and effectively killed the lower part of her right front leg.

Her veterinarian contacted me to ask if I would be willing to consider doing an amputation and fitting Molly with a prosthesis. After some debate and being very sceptical I decided that after watching Molly, it was in fact her that convinced me if there was ever a patient to perform this on, it was her.

Fortunately, 10 years later Molly is still going strong. However her purpose and role in life has changed. She now visits cancer camp and children's hospitals, veteran care and elderly care facilities and gives them hope and courage and let's them know that it's okay to look and be different. I will never forget the confident smile on this young boy's face who lost a leg to bone cancer or to this elderly veteran amputee who literally came to life when they met Molly.

Molly is a perfect example of the power of the human/animal bond. In many instances an animal or a pet is the most important or stable part of the family structure, perhaps the only positive relationship someone has. We know that women who are in situations of domestic violence will oftentimes not leave it simply because they're fearful for what might happen to that pet left behind. And yet very few shelters will allow a pet.
Bev and Roy are homeless here in Columbus, Ohio. They have been offered housing and shelter but will not take it because they would have to leave their four-legged, furry family members behind. When asked "Why not just give up your pets, get off the street and get into housing?" they both said to me "We cannot do that. I cannot give up Boo-Boo or Tigger. He's my family. That would be like me giving up my child."

Now listen to that! People in situations of homelessness or domestic violence will not give up their pets. That's a powerful bond.

Research has shown and is recognizing the importance of this human/animal bond on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities. Researchers have coined a term for this phenomenon, Zooeyia. Zooeyia are those positive health benefits - whether physical, social, behavioural, emotional, mental or psychological - for people who have a pet or interact with one.

So why care about this? The reason is it's important for us to convince the healthcare community of the need for change, from physicians to caregivers, insurance providers to policymakers, they need to understand and recognize the legitimate impact and importance of animals on the health and wellbeing of people.

You're probably sitting there saying "Okay, show me the proof." Well I will share some examples and data that I'm pretty confident will convince you of this phenomenon. There's been substantial research documenting this and I will provide some, including some physiological evidence including hormonal changes, decreases in stress and blood pressure, improved weight loss, decreases in cholesterol and triglycerides, among other health benefits.

Billions of dollars are saved each year in the healthcare system when people are healthy and it's been shown that animals play a vital role in that good physical and mental health. I will share three examples with you where it's been shown that pet interaction is actually having a positive benefit on these individuals, autism, Alzheimer's and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Autistic spectrum disorder is actually a complex developmental disability that typically first manifests in early childhood and is characterized by an inability to communicate or interact socially with others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that the prevalence of this has increased to 1 in 68 births in the United States or 1 in 54 boys.

Take a moment and read this letter from a 14 year old autistic boy who was at a correctional facility in Marysville, Ohio and he was being treated for physical, emotional and learning challenges. Isn't it ironic that what he identified that Oswald needed, which he was actually training to become an adoptable dog, were the very things that he needed as a child but did not experience: family, love, fun, people to be around and a set of rules to follow.

Oswald gave this boy a chance for a better life and that's only one of the reasons I'm so passionate about the human/animal bond. Research with people that have Alzheimer's or dementia are remarkably similar. Nearly 5.5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's and millions more have other forms of dementia.

So how can an animal or pet help these individuals? They serve as companions, dogs are naturally born listeners and can provide positive, nonverbal feedback and communication and animals have been shown to decrease anxiety, agitation and aggressive behaviour.

This is Alan when he was 78 years old. He has non-Alzheimer's dementia and was participating in an equine therapeutic intervention study along with some others and part of that was to visit horses on a regular basis. After every visit to the horses, Alan would repeatedly ask "When can we go see Jack? Can I ride Jack? Can I have Jack?"

Well Alan couldn't remember much but he never forgot these horse experiences and in fact four years later on his 82nd birthday he asked again "When can we go see Jack? Can I ride him? Can I have him?" So you can see the power and importance of the human/animal bond. It's as strong as ever, regardless of age or mental capacity.

Post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the witnessing or experiencing of a life-threatening or traumatic event, whether that be combat in a war zone, a serious accident, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack or physical or sexual assault. Nearly eight percent of Americans will deal with PTSD some time during their lifetime.

Meet Ryan. Ryan is a first year student at our college of veterinary medicine. I first became acquainted with Ryan last year when I read his personal essay as part of his application to veterinary school. And with Ryan's permission I'm going to share his story.

Ryan grew up like I did in rural West Virginia and he had a cocker spaniel named Jim that was his confidant for 11 years. When Jim died Ryan experienced true grief for the first time at the age of 17. Seeking adventure in his life, he joined the army and was later deployed to a war zone where he was critically injured, in fact, so much so that he had to retire from the military with medical conditions and also with a diagnosis of PTSD.
Ryan says that although he recovered physically, the damage that was done would require more than medicine to heal. His mother, watching him struggle, gave him a life-changing gift, a runty Great Dane puppy that Ryan named Izzy. In Ryan's application he said "This dog saved my life. It amazes me how the bond we developed brought me back to life. Izzy got me through some difficult times."

When Izzy died about two years ago, Ryan's roommate noticed that Ryan was slipping backward in dealing with his PTSD and he said to Ryan "Maybe you should get another dog." And Ryan said "Maybe I should." And so together they went out and found another Great Dane puppy and Ryan appropriately and ironically named this new puppy and companion Maybe.

Ryan says that he's thankful and grateful for Maybe helping him get through and be successful in the stressful and rigorous demands of veterinary school. Now this Great Dane puppy will become a big dog and not everyone can handle a Great Dane. So it's wise to consult a veterinarian about the most appropriate type of pet for a given situation so that you can actually achieve the health benefits that are meant to be had by having a pet.
Also, not everyone can have a pet, for a variety of reasons. Fortunately it's been shown that even brief interactions with a pet can have those same positive benefits. So therefore seek out opportunities and activities where you can interact with a pet or an animal. Perhaps you volunteer at a local shelter and walk dogs, or maybe you just go visit your friends or family who have a pet.

So armed with this information, what can we do? We can tell our family and friends about Zooeyia and the positive health benefits on us, which is scientifically proven. We can talk to the healthcare professionals on the human side and encourage change. Medical teams should be asking patients about pets in the medical history taking. The reason is, this has been shown to increase rapport and trust with the physician and the entire healthcare team which is likely to lead to the patient revealing information important to their healthcare. If you have a pet and you're not asked about it in the medical history-taking, take the time to tell them about the pet and the important role it plays in your life.

We can also heighten the awareness among the health profession about the importance of incorporating the pet into the therapeutic or wellness plan because this has been shown to increase patient compliance. You can also simply ask your doctor or a healthcare professional how a pet might improve your health or that of a loved one.

And finally, encourage your physician to write a prescription for a pet or an interaction with one.

Speaking of that and on a personal note, about a year ago I was given this prescription: adopt two black miniature schnauzers and spend at least 10 minutes with them as needed to decrease stress and anxiety. I took that advice and since adopting Travis Lincoln and Teddy Luther in December of 2014 my life and perspectives have changed dramatically. My stress level is down. My priorities are different and my personal and professional relationships are enhanced. I can tell you that Travis and Teddy make me laugh and smile multiple times a day, every day.
So what can we do? We can actually encourage the healthcare profession, the public, governmental agencies, health insurance providers and others to understand, accept and embrace the power and importance of the human/animal bond and Zooeyia. Remember the power of a pet.
Now I couldn't end this without introducing you to the two boys in my life that have actually enriched it and inspired this presentation. So join me in welcoming Travis Lincoln and Teddy Luther. I don't think they've ever seen this many people. Thank you very much.
Erica: Thank you Zoya for that pet health segment. So a lot of the same aspects discussed, with animals.

Doug: Yeah.

Elliot: Yeah, those goats sounded like they had lots of good touch.

Erica: Well thank you all for listening and we apologize for our technical difficulties. We're glad we could get our message out today and thank you for our chatters and Brent for calling in. We look forward to seeing you or airing next week. Please be sure to tune into Sunday's show, Behind the Headlines and hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.

Tiffany: Virtual hugs to everyone.

Erica: Virtual hugs.

Doug: Yeah.

Erica: Hug a friend or just pat them on the back. Have a great day.