Does love affect health?

(courtesy of Flickr user nyoin)

Two groups of children receiving different levels of hygiene and nutrition and different levels of loving care. The ones being loved fared much better.

Anne Harrington is a Harvard College Professor and Professor for the History of Science, specializing in the history of psychiatry, neuroscience, and the other mind and behavioral sciences. In her book, “The Cure Within – A History of Mind-Body Medicine”, she shares a 1945 study (on page 191) by psychoanalytic psychiatrist Rene Spitz in which one group of babies was cared for with good hygiene and excellent physical care but received little if any individual love or attention. This group became physically and emotionally stunted. Most could not walk or talk even at the age of four. “Within two years 37 percent … had died from infection.

In contrast, a second group of babies was cared for in a prison nursery that was “far dirtier” but received loving affection from their mothers each day. “Not a single one of the second group of children succumbed to infection during the five-year period of Spitz’s study.

The poor suffering heart needs its rightful nutriment, such as peace, patience in tribulation, and a priceless sense of the dear Father’s loving-kindness” writes Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of Christian Science, in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (page 365).

Harrington shares that cancer surgeon Bernie Siegel writes in his book “Love, Medicine, and Miracles” (page 180), “I feel that all disease is ultimately related to a lack of love, or to love that is only conditional, for the exhaustion and depression of the immune system thus created leads to physical vulnerability. I also feel that all healing is related to the ability to give and accept unconditional love…The truth is: love heals.

“And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.” (KJV Matthew 14:14)

On page 175 of “The Cure Within”, Harrington cites a 1998 Newsweek article entitled, “Is Love the Best Drug?” which pointed out that women who felt isolated were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of breast, ovarian or uterine cancer, male medical students who did not feel close to their parents were more likely to develop cancer or mental illness years later, and heart attack survivors who lived alone were more than twice as likely to die within a year. In answer to the question, “Do you feel loved?”, heart patients “who felt the least loved had 50 percent more arterial damage than those who felt the most loved.”

Again, the ones being loved, feeling loved, fared much better. But how could this be if how we think and feel has no effect on health?

Harrington calls these loving and supportive social connections “healing ties”. Our ultimate “healing tie” is with God, who is always with us and is always loving us – all of us. The Bible relates God as saying, “I have dearly loved you from of old, and still I maintain my unfailing care for you.” (The New English Bible, Jeremiah 31:3).

In my previous blog post, I shared how Herbert Benson, M.D., in his book “Timeless Healing – The Power and Biology of Belief”, pointed out that patients fared better when physicians convey confidence and expectancy to their patients. Perhaps this is not just a placebo effect. The boosted confidence in the treatment may be. But is it also possible that the encouragement and caring attention given actually brings love to bear on the case? Benson says (page 244), “really good physicians exude such care and warmth.” They not only care for their patients, but they care about their patients.

The Bible says, “God is love.”¹ I’ve learned in Christian Science that God is the ultimate loving physician. The love we express and the love we feel really has its source in Him.

Eddy points out that God’s love is sufficient for healing when she writes, “Divine Love is our only physician, and never loses a case. It binds up the broken-hearted; heals the poor body, whose whole head is sick and whose whole heart is faint; comforts such as mourn, wipes away the unavailing, tired tear, brings back the wanderer to the Father’s house in which are many mansions, many welcomes, many pardons for the penitent.”²

Love is good for our health.

¹ KJV I John 4:16;   ² First Church of Christ, Scientists, and Miscellany, page 132.
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