New Research on the Pleasure Cure

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What do coffee, wine, sex, massage, pets, naps, fun, and laughter have in common? In proper amounts, they all seem to reduce blood glucose and inflammation, protecting against diabetes. Perhaps we’ll be healthier if we focus less on the hard stuff and make more time for pleasure.

Some examples: A recent analysis of 18 studies showed that people who drank three to four cups of coffee a day, even decaf, had a 25% lower chance of developing diabetes than people who drank two cups or less a day. This is no shock. Web Editor Diane Fennell has reported on previous studies showing similar benefits for coffee, and also for drinking tea. This new analysis shows that, since decaf also works, the benefit probably does not come from the caffeine.

Moderate drinking — no more than two drinks of wine, beer, or liquor a day for a man, one per day for a woman — has also been found to reduce risks of developing diabetes and heart disease. The biggest study came from the Netherlands and was reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers found that other lifestyle factors could not account for the drinkers’ better results; it must have been drinking the alcohol.

It’s not just what you take into your body; it’s also who touches it. A Diabetes Spectrum article from 2001 reported on some small studies showing reduced A1C levels in some people with regular massage. There’s more. According to Web MD, sex promotes health in ten ways, including boosting the immune system, helping the heart, reducing stress, promoting sleep, and relieving pain.

Touch doesn’t have to be human; it just has to feel good. I wrote about the benefits of pets back in 2008 and the pro-pet results keep coming in. The Centers for Disease Control reports that pets can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, ease loneliness, and increase exercise and socialization.

Just as good as touch and wine are laughter and fun. Studies consistently show that regular laughter reduces inflammation and blood pressure, while raising good cholesterol levels. It’s not just laughter, either; any kind of fun helps. My first article for Diabetes Self-Management, back in 2002, called “The Healing Value of Fun”, reported on the many ways fun is good for you.

I’ve only talked about legal pleasures here, but if you’re lucky enough to live in a medical marijuana state, anecdotal evidence shows benefits for people with diabetes from using cannabis.

What Do They Have in Common?
How could this wide variety of experiences all have such beneficial effects? Probably because pleasure is good for you, no matter how you get it. It reduces stress and increases endorphins, which improves insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation and blood pressure. Anything that reduces stress is good for you.

That means you don’t have to follow pleasure prescriptions like “drink wine or coffee” or whatever. Don’t do things because you should do them, or because somebody told you to (even me!). Do things because you WANT to do them. Do them because they make you feel good.

You can see more about the health benefits of pleasure at An interesting article from Archives of Internal Medicine is called “Pleasure Heals.” A good book about the value of pleasure is Healthy Pleasures,” by Drs. David Sobel and Robert Ornstein.

But what about you? What do you do for pleasure, and what gets in the way? Do you have enough pleasure in your life? I really want to know, because my new book on reasons to live will have a large section on pleasure. I need to know what people think. How do you feel about the idea of pleasure as medicine?

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