POST 50
06/11/2014 03:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2014

Hugs Have Healing Power, Study Says

Jose Luis Pelaez via Getty Images

Ever wonder why sometimes a hug is all you need? You can't explain it, but there's just something comforting about snuggling up to your spouse after a rough day or giving mom a hug after a long time apart.

A new study says that warm, fuzzy feeling is more than just skin deep. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley believe that this loving feeling could have reparative, anti-aging benefits.

Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the "love hormone" or the "trust hormone," is responsible for those indescribable feelings we get when we're bonding with a lover or a loved one -- and now researchers say it's got a lot to do with aging.

Levels of the hormone drop as we age, and evidence suggests that could be a contributing factor to the deterioration of our bodies as we age. Muscle loss in particular is one of the major side effects of aging, with our bodies losing up to 5 percent of our muscle mass each decade past our 30s.

In the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers injected oxytocin into older mice with muscle damage and deterioration. The older mice had lower levels of the hormone than younger mice initially. But after nine days, the older mice who were given the hormone healed better than those who did not. In fact, their ability to repair muscle damage was up to 80 percent that of the younger mice.

The results were not only fast-acting, but provide hope for future uses of the hormone in a variety of anti-aging capacities. "This is good because it demonstrates that extra oxytocin boosts aged tissue stem cells without making muscle stem cells divide uncontrollably,” study co-author Wendy Cousins said in a statement.

Previous uses of anti-aging molecules have also been associated with higher cancer risk, but researchers are hopeful that oxytocin can be useful in humans without this risk.

Oxytocin can certainly make you look younger, some experts say, as the release of the hormone has anti-inflammatory benefits, which fight aging.

In the future, researchers say oxytocin could be used to fight other age-related health issues by improving bone health and even being used as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy.

Now go out and give someone a hug.

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