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Could Seeing the Grand Canyon Boost Your Immune System?

Feb 04, 2015 02:46 PM EST
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Enriching one's life with the beauty of nature, art and religion, such as seeing the Grand Canyon or Sistine Chapel, may help to boost the body's immune system, according to a new study.

Researchers believe that positive emotions associated with such awe-inspiring wonders are linked to lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines - proteins that signal the immune system to work harder.

"That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions -- a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art - has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy," co-author Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.

While you would think that more cytokines, not less, would better help the body to battle infections, disease and trauma, that is not the case. In actuality, sustained high levels of cytokines are associated with poorer health and disorders like type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer's disease, and clinical depression.

While it is widely known that a healthy diet, lots of sleep and exercise are three main ingredients for a robust immune system, it now appears that positive emotions also play an important part.

During the study, the researchers surveyed more than 200 young adults on the extent to which they had experienced such positive emotions as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride. After then taking samples of participants' cheek and gum tissue, they found that those who experienced more of these positive emotions - especially awe, wonder and amazement - had the lowest levels of the cytokine called Interleukin 6, a marker of inflammation.

"It is possible that having lower cytokines makes people feel more positive emotions, or that the relationship is bidirectional," lead author Jennifer Stellar said.

Researchers still aren't completely sure which came first - the low cytokines or the positive feelings. Only more research will be able to tell.

The findings are described further in the journal Emotion.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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