Dr David R Hamilton PhD has written some 10 books on the mind body connection, and in particular the power of the mind over our wellbeing. Here, together with Sallie Shaw of Sallie Shaw Therapy, we talk about two of his books: “Why Kindness is Good for You” and “The Five Side Effects of Kindness“.
Why Kindness is Good for You
by David R. Hamilton PhD, 2010
- Compassion grows out of empathy: “em-pathy” is where we “feel with“ and share someone’s pain; “com-passion” is is “feeling for” someone. Empathy is often where kindness begins .
- Cultivating compassion changes and increases the circuits and size of the area of the brain that deals with empathy – the prefrontal cortex.
- MRI studies show that thinking the same thoughts over and over again change the structure of the brain. Regular meditation can change the brain in a positive way, increasing the tendency to wish everyone well and reducing the tendency to get stuck in feelings of hurt, anger, irritation, etc. Peace sets in.
- Compassion benefits the immune system. It reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory substances interleukin 6 and cortisol. Too much of these are found when a person is chronically stressed which in turn is associated with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, depression. Studies quoted in the book found that people who meditate regularly have lower levels of these substances.
- The vagus nerve is known as the nerve of compassion and runs from the brain through the face and thorax to the abdomen. It acts as a brake on heart rate. When we breathe out the heart rate increases but when we breathe in, the vagus nerve slows the heart rate down. Having high vagal tone controls heart rate and reduces blood pressure. Stimulation of the vagal nerve has been approved as a treatment for depression. High Vagal tone is linked to compassion.
- The vagus nerve also puts a brake on the previously mentioned pro-inflammatory cytokines like interleukin-6. While these are necessary to eradicate invading pathogens and prevent sepsis, if these cytokines aren’t turned off after they’ve finished their work, they can produce disease. An excess of pro-inflammatory cytokines can lead to a number of diseases like cancer, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, atherosclerosis, autoimmune disease (eg rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis etc) as well as increased aging and possibly Alzheimer’s.
- Aging has now been discovered to be due to Telomere shortening on our DNA, inefficiency of mitochondria in our cells, and low nitric oxide levels. Persistent inflammation speeds these processes up however, by activating the vagus nerve through meditation etc, we can reduce the inflammation and thereby slow aging.
- The vagus nerve can be stimulated through meditation, yoga, prayer and tai chi. Other ways to stimulate it are holding your breath, coughing, dipping your face in cold water and tensing your stomach muscles!
The Five Side Effects of Kindness
by David R. Hamilton PhD, 2017
Being social animals kindness comes to us naturally – but are you aware of the unintended benefits that this brings to our mind, body and heart?
Dr Hamilton draws on a wealth of scientific research and his own professional experience to explain how being kind creates physiological changes in our brains and bodies so that we are healthier and happier, better able to fight illness and depression, we age slower and
have better relationships.
Taking an example from the chapter on how kindness is good for the heart, Dr Hamilton explains how this works in an informative and accessible way. An act of kindness triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin. At a cellular level, this causes the walls of the arteries to
produce nitric oxide and at the same time the heart makes another chemical, atrial
natriuretic peptide, ANP both of these cause arteries to relax and widen. The dilation of the arteries allows more blood to flow through them and be delivered to the heart and other organs. The reduction in blood pressure that this brings is cardioprotective and ultimately reduces risk of heart attack and stroke. A neat example of how being kind is literally good for your heart.
Whether you are concerned about your health, your wrinkles, or your love life this is an inspiring read, backed by scientific research and punctuated with practical tips on how to be kind. So, embrace being kind, and enjoy the wonderful side effects!