It’s not love. It’s oxytocin!

Lighter Side of Life – Feel Good

We may have heard that a daily small dose of black chocolate can be beneficial to our health. This would be manna from heaven – it would humour our taste buds while, at the same time, bringing us much-needed antidepressant and potassium. Yet this is not the whole story. An article appearing in Nov.

2012 issue of New Scientist suggests that a researcher has found that there is a positive relationship between the average yearly chocolate consumed by the people of a country and the number of Nobel Prizes that that country would reap! One of them, Eric Cornell, who was a laureate in physics in 2001, even assured us that he was always a great chocolate fan. If only a swallow could make a spring… we in Mauritius could have given up on sugarcane cultivation and go, instead, for cacao plantation. We could then test that theory, by ingesting more of that good stuff provided it is black, in the hope of winning our first Nobel!

So are grapes…

And continuing in that gustatory streak, if you have had a doubt about the benefit of ingesting wine for the welfare of your heart arteries, believing that all this is just an advertising gimmick by the wine producing industry, then rest assured that most studies have found that a small glass of red wine daily will keep your heart in a better shape. And if you happen to be a teetotaller and still disagree, again rest assured that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is said that it is not the alcohol in the wine that is the real elixir (just wishful thinking of the wine producers!). In fact any red grape juice will be do, because it is the vitamins and flavonoids (a group of chemicals) present in the peels and seeds of the grapes that are the real virtue. And if you are still skeptic, then you could munch your red grapes – peel and seeds whole.

Coffee too!

Now what about coffee? We have heard about its sterling qualities as a brain stimulant (hence the millions of addicts across the world), and diuretic (making one pass urine frequently). But the latest is that it helps us to have original ideas, as if it is doing justice to its reputation of being a brain stimulant. However, some scientists now advance that it is not the caffeine itself which helps us to have great thoughts. Since, after ingesting it, we have to get up and go to the loo often, it is that act of walking to and fro that stimulates fresh ideas. How that should please so many of us who are addicted to a daily footing; it could be that the brain decides to try out new enigmas, thoughts and puzzles as we stroll along, as if the very act of walking helps to open up fresh and new neural circuits. The caffeine is just a side issue.

And don’t worry too much about saturated fats

Another item about which we have been so much brainwashed is saturated fats in our diets, we have even developed some phobia for it. But recently some doctors are questioning the wisdom of that dieting business forced upon us since the last five decades or so. It appears that even in the saturated fats there are two types. One is a sort of floppy, woolly type and the other is a compact smallish molecule. It is the latter which is our enemy, found in meat and butter and margarine, while the former is our friend, found in cheese and vegetables or fruits like avocado. And do not believe that having a low saturated fat level in your blood is wonderful: no, it is as bad as a high level. We need an optimum level, just as that for cholesterol. So if we have been hesitating to consume nuts and seeds because of its high saturated fats, we may now have second thoughts.

Obsessed with cleanliness?

And then there are many of us who have a guilty conscience at seeing our peers who are maintain squeaky cleanliness. How could they be so clean, we go on asking ourselves? But all studies are showing that the fanatics of cleanliness suffer from many allergic conditions – either they have dermatological problems, or more frequently asthmatic attacks. It seems that their immune system is weaker and they cannot respond adequately to the environment when faced with new challenges. So who said that being less clean and a bit dirty is so disastrous?

There’s more: some researchers in the USA are saying that a total absence of worms in our intestines is the cause for a weakened immune system, and – brace yourselves –they prescribe ingesting sterile round worm eggs by people with compromised immune system, so as hope to have a few worms in their gut! These seem to lead the gut lining to produce certain substances that are beneficial to the internal immune system! Are the days of ‘deworming’ counted? Isolating ourselves totally from our microbe-laden environment, a part and parcel of which we are, may not be a good idea after all. However, all this is yet to be in the mainstream medical teaching.

And now some psychology

Are you becoming a pessimist, and feel that the world is far from the place you had expected it to be? Then there may be hope. Many psychologists are finding out that we go on judging our world by using more of our emotions than our logic. Ask someone what he thinks about the new car you have bought. ‘What do you THINK of my car?’ He will most probably interpret it as: ‘What do you FEEL about my new car?’, and give you his bigoted opinion.

It seems that most of our time is spent judging our environment and world by using our emotions, rather than our faculty of reason. Remember how Paco Rabanne got all worked up at the coming of year 2000, and all the excitement of some people on 21st December 2012! There was a fear of the end of the world! And think of the millions of people who everyday promise themselves to ingest less food and to diet so as to maintain an optimal weight, and fail miserably because they are led astray by their taste buds and emotions. Similarly for all our past misunderstandings and quarrels — our emotion was the culprit most of the time. We form a skewed, distorted and polarized view of our universe around. But., finally, it may not be as bad as we say it is or appears to be; of course the downtrodden, the poor, the unemployed or our environment might hold totally different views. Nevertheless, it’s ‘the emotional tail that wags the rational dog’!

Take heart

How we would like to be exempted from paying income tax: next month many of us will lament. Take heart from the Irish, who see some 50% of their pay going into the coffers of that department, while we in Mauritius have to part with 15% — unless the new Minister of Finance thinks differently next March! No doubt many of us have a morbid secret agenda to outwit that concerned department, and we are convinced that we have valid reasons to do that. While some of our people in higher authority are dipping their fingers in the kitty of some institutions, many of us find it unreasonable to play second fiddle, and do not mind playing the cat and mouse game with the income tax department.

As children we have loved playing games just as all animal youngsters do, may be as a social ritual to face a hard adult life, and we humans do not mind continuing to play that psychological game as adults. But of course now it is more serious, for the loser may end up in jail. Maybe that’s why one American author thinks differently; she is of the view that people seeking happiness must have no fear, they must have psychological freedom. Pay our tax and feel free, she advises; be a fair player and a patriot, this will liberate us from any qualm and we may walk the land with the head held high and feel proud of our honesty.

Recently oxytocin, a hormone familiar to medical students, is being extolled as the bonding, friendship or love hormone. It is the basis of the strong, magical mother – newborn relationship. Trust scientists to come up with a novel idea: should I want to tap you for a loan or a gift, unknown to you, I may spray some oxytocin in the air just before your arrival. This will mellow your mood and tune you to accede to my request! One can only guess what role this hormone may play in our feel-good attitude.

In his recent book ‘The Moral Landscape’ Sam Harris takes issue against some authority that uses that oxytocin trick to extract information from prisoners. We are amazed to learn too that freshly baked bread (remember the aroma of our good old warm ‘maison’) is used in the same strategy. So now we’ll understand why in some business transactions, the host may serve us a good cup of tea with freshly-baked bread! So beware of these business transactions, lest we sign on the dotted line against our own interest!

And talking of getting a concession from the other: then wait until he is lying down on a canapé before you make your request. It seems that in such a position people are more ready to give way to others’ requests. Surely a horizontal husband is more likely to agree parting with some cash for the wife’s shopping spree than a vertical one! And maybe that’s why doctors, and more so psychoanalysts, have discovered, by trial and error, that they would prefer having their patients lying down!

That’s the way our world goes. Sometimes it looks simple, but at other times it just feels that there are wheels within wheels.


* Published in print edition on 27 February  2015

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