Senior man on his mountain bike outdoors

Awesome anti-inflammatories

When you have completed your payment at the supermarket checkout and the teenage checkout-operator hands you your receipt with a glib, ‘Awesome!’ Do you ever pause? Did the transaction of exchanging money for food and household goods really generate in you a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder? ‘Awe’ is spoken of too easily these days, it is part of the “random” parlance that shapes our daily conversation and we throw it in where it really is inappropriate. That’s fine of course, language is an evolving thing that finds its beauty in its artisan crafting, just like an especially smelly cheese, but the true meaning of ‘awe’ does matter in the context of a new study which has found that genuine awe and other positive emotions can actually act as medicines that reduce inflammation in your body.

For this study, on two separate occasions, the researchers had subjects report on a given day to what extent they had experienced positive emotions such as awe, amusement, compassion, contentment, joy, love, and pride. At the end of those days they also took cheek and gum samples which they tested for levels of cytokines. These cytokines are immune mediating substances that indicate levels of inflammation in the body.

The results showed that people who experienced more awe, wonder, and amazement had the lowest levels of the inflammatory cytokine TNF-alpha. High levels of TNF-alpha are not only linked to inflammatory conditions but also to depression because in signalling the brain to produce inflammatory molecules it also blocks hormones and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

The researchers believe that awe has this effect by inspiring curious and exploratory behaviour which is the opposite of the kind of behaviour found during inflammation where people tend to withdraw from their environment.

All of that means that the prescription for your inflammation should not be limited to ibuprofen or even Boswellia. Instead your anti-inflammatory protocol should include things that will induce awe like walking in nature, immersing yourself in music, or engaging with significant pieces of art. Now that is an anti-inflammatory prescription that truly is awesome.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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