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Influence of a Warm Touch Support Enhancement Intervention Among Married Couples on Ambulatory Blood Pressure, Oxytocin, Alpha Amylase, and Cortisol

Holt-Lunstad, Julianne PhD; Birmingham, Wendy A. BS; Light, Kathleen C. PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e318187aef7
Original Articles

Objective: To investigate whether a support intervention (warm touch enhancement) influences physiological stress systems that are linked to important health outcomes. Growing evidence points to a protective effect of social and emotional support on both morbidity and mortality.

Methods: In this study, 34 healthy married couples (n = 68), aged 20 to 39 years (mean = 25.2 years), were randomly assigned to a “behavior monitoring” control group or participated in a 4-week intervention study in which clinic levels of plasma oxytocin, 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure, and salivary cortisol and alpha amylase were obtained pre and post intervention, at the same time salivary oxytocin was taken at home during weeks 1 and 4.

Results: Salivary oxytocin was enhanced both early and late in the intervention group and alpha amylase was reduced at post treatment in intervention group husbands and wives relative to controls. Husbands in the intervention group had significantly lower post treatment 24-hour systolic blood pressure than the control group.

Conclusion: Increasing warm touch among couples has a beneficial influence on multiple stress-sensitive systems.

BP = blood pressure; ABP = ambulatory blood pressure; SBP = systolic blood pressure; DBP = diastolic blood pressure; OT = oxytocin; HPA = hypothalamic-pituitary adrenocortical; SNS = sympathetic nervous system; AUC = area under the curve.

From the Department of Psychology (J.H.-L.), Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; and the Departments of Psychology (W.A.B.) and Anesthesiology (K.C.L.), University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Department of Psychology, Brigham Young University, 1024 Spencer W. Kimball Tower, Provo, UT 84602-5543. E-mail: julianne_holt-lunstad@byu.edu

This research was generously supported by grants awarded to Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad from the Family Studies Center, the Mary Lou Fulton Mentored Learning grants foundation, and the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences at Brigham Young University.

Received for publication January 4, 2008; revision received June 4, 2008.

Copyright © 2008 by American Psychosomatic Society
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