Some health benefits of crying

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During a church lecture on family health several months ago, the question was asked about the reasons behind the global advantage women enjoy over men in terms of life expectancy. The answers were not far to seek; women multitask, went the guest lecturer and so they tend to handle stress better than men even as they absorb the shock of their loss. The second reason was more confounding; women, he said, were ultimately quicker to tears and that being a very public display of emotion ultimately brings healing very swiftly to a grieving heart. The auditorium erupted in a din of sound as the second answer almost turned into a lecture of its own. Clearly, the lecturer had hit a raw nerve which resonated with many in the church and people wanted to know about that interesting relationship. It was therefore the impetus for this week’s essay and that was for no less a reason than the assurance of scientific enquiry which indicates that crying does have a range of positive benefits.

Crying is a natural response found in man as a reaction to various emotional states. Grief, sadness, frustration and joy all make people cry for a varying duration of time. People of either sex often cry more frequently than is apparent and this is a quality not limited to humans alone. In documented evidence recorded in the United States, it became evident that the average woman cried about 3.5 times every month while the average man did so half as many times. So now we must try to understand why people, irrespective of their sex, cry. These are broadly divided into three main categories and none is less important than the other but it needs emphasis that when people usually talk about crying in the ordinary sense, they refer to the emotional type of it and are therefore, referring to emotional tears. Among men, there is a tendency to suppress the urge to cry or to suppress tears especially if they perceive such an emotion to be a sign of weakness.

Crying in response to pain or joy or sadness is no doubt a normal development. Sometimes, crying is a prominent feature in depression which ought to be suspected if the frequency of crying is regarded as abnormal or it happens for no evident reason. One must also worry about the possibility of depressive illness if such excessive crying begins to interfere with the person’s daily activities or interferes with their work. When other features of depression are seen such as difficulty with concentrating on things or making decisions, such crying must then be determined as not being beneficial but probably suggestive of some deeper malaise.

The first cause is that the tear ducts always secrete basal tears. This watery product is a protein-rich fluid that has antibacterial properties and it helps to keep the eyes moist every time a person blinks. This is a quality seen in other mammals as well. The second cause of crying is broadly known as the reflex entity in which tears are produced as a result of irritants in the air around us such as smoke, onions and wind. It is to prevent this happening that motor vehicles are equipped with windscreens and motorcyclists are advised to wear protective goggles when riding. In either case, these devices are invaluable in protecting our eyes from harsh contact with breeze that would certainly cause tearing. The last common cause of crying is the emotional variety in which case, anger; rage; bereavement; pain; sorrow and heartbreak can all contribute. The tears produced in this last group are rich in stress hormones rather than the antibacterial quality seen in the first type.

Some of the obvious benefits of crying will be itemised below so as to define in bold relief what science has found in connection with it.

1) Crying has been variously described by many workers in the behavioural science community as primarily an attachment behaviour that helps the crying person to attract both sympathy and emotional support from others around them. In this connection, its social benefit is well recognised as an important part of the healing process. It also helps in an immediate way to deal with sudden grief especially by helping to bring about calm and some self-control.

2) As a follow up on the first reason above, crying does help a lot of people to achieve some emotional balance following tragedy and loss. It improves the mood by increasing the production oxytocin, a hormone also released during orgasm primarily in women. Furthermore, oxytocin and endorphins can also help improve the ability to handle physical pain. For this reason, these hormones are also called the “feel good” hormones.

3) When people cry in response to stress, their tears are said to contain a number of stress hormones. Other chemicals are also a part of the secretions. Some researchers believe that the very act of crying reduces the levels of these hormones and chemicals in the body and therefore help to reduce stress. As women tend to cry more often than men, therefore, they become more adept at controlling their stress and looking healthier than men of a similar age and circumstance. They simply achieve that by crying more often.

4) When basal tears are secreted, they are released every time we blink and they thus help to keep the eyes moist by lubricating the mucous membranes. By doing so, the eyeballs are prevented from drying out and the resulting wetness actually helps the eyes to see objects more precisely. If the membranes do not get this kind of lubrication and they get to dry up, the vision becomes blurred and the eyes could even become damaged.

5)  Crying is said to help in killing bacteria by virtue of containing a fluid known as lysozyme, an agent with such antibacterial potency that it was found in a 2011 study to be powerful enough to contain a powerful organism like anthrax, a potential agent of bioterrorism.

6) In a landmark study in 2014, crying was found to have a genuinely soothing effect on individuals. That study also examined how crying affects the parasympathetic nervous system and thus helps people to relax. The study also found how people are therefore able to regulate their own emotions, achieve stability and bring themselves some measure of calm. It is not an easy status to achieve which goes to reinforce the notion that the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system plays an immense role in bringing that state about.

In a small study in 2015, it was determined that crying can help babies to sleep better. Whether such an effect is replicable in an adult has not yet been proved or even studied but the thinking at the present time is that the mood improvement and, pain-relieving effects of crying could actually help induce better sleep.

In taking all of this into consideration, there is no doubt that people should let go when they feel like crying; it may prolong life.

Ask the doctor

Dear doctor, I don’t miss your article in SUNDAY PUNCH. Lately, I noticed that I always have a swollen leg if I sit for a long time or at times when I wear a tight shoe in my left leg. I had an accident some years back and they put POP on the leg but I didn’t use it till the recommended time so I do not know if that is the cause of my swollen leg. But once I stretch or sleep, the following day I am okay or at times, it will be normal even if I wear shoe or slippers. I am 58 years old. Thanks. [email protected] 

Well, thank you very much for such remarkable consistency. An old injury to your leg could cause it to swell like you described in your question when you place some strain on it through prolonged standing or sitting. That happens because even when there is no visible injury to the skin, there is some disruption of tissues in the leg as a result of the injury. The result is that even when such wounds have healed, the healing is not perfect and problems like yours can follow. Other than the discomfort you experience, there is no problem as such. Finally, you must know that even people have not previously sustained injuries to their legs, the legs can swell up when they stand or sit for a long time.

Dear doctor, I’m a female of 37 years and an avid reader of your column in SUNDAY PUNCH. I have an eight-year-old daughter and a few months after I weaned her at the age of 15 months, my periods became irregular and stopped completely by the time I was 34.

I have been to several different doctors and have also been given different drugs such as oral contraceptives and later Primolut-N. The drugs always seemed to work initially but afterwards, the periods stopped flowing. Three months ago, another doctor asked me to carry out a hormone assay and the result came back as ovarian failure. The doctor told me there was nothing to be done. Is that true, sir?  0909xxxxxxx

That kind of problem is very frustrating, I am afraid. Ovarian failure is one that has very limited treatment options. It is alternatively labelled a premature menopause but is amenable to hormone treatment. However, some cases have been known to correct themselves quite spontaneously with a resolution of the initial problems. If you are fine with one child, there is no reason to fret but if you seek to have more children you have to be prepared to endure multiple investigations and take lots of medicines by mouth and as injections.

Dear doctor, recently, about three months ago, my employers discovered I was 22 weeks pregnant and laid me off. Suddenly, I had nowhere to go and with my meager savings, I found a doctor who agreed to help me terminate the pregnancy because I could not keep it. I was made to go through labour for two days. Everything was smooth and I was discharged. The bleeding stopped after five days and there was no problem again apart from pain in my tummy. Can I still have children in future? 0818xxxxxxx

It seems to me that everything went smoothly. Since all bleeding stopped after a few days, it means there were no complications. So if your periods have returned since after that experience, there is no reason why you cannot get pregnant again in the future.

Dear doctor. I am recently married, about six months now but even though I live with my husband, and we have sex nearly every day, I am yet to get pregnant. One thing I have observed though is that his sperm is very watery. Is that of any significance? Thank you. 0802xxxxxxx

I am assuming you have some experience already with various consistencies of semen. If it is watery as you have indicated, it could mean that the semen is deficient in sperm cells or does not have any at all. The former condition is described as oligospermia and the latter as azoospermia. Whatever is the position, all we have said here is pure conjecture; what your husband needs to do is have a semen analysis done to determine where the problem lies and what the possible treatment would be.

Dear doctor, what can be the reason for the appearance of boils in various parts of the body especially the head and face? 0806xxxxxxx

The reasons are various but most often, it is because the sweat pores are blocked by debris or the hair roots are invaded by bacteria. The most common culprit bacteria to do this is Staph aureus. Most of the time, the boils are minor and easily treatable with simple antibiotics. However, for those who have susceptible skin either as a result of poor hygiene or a disease like diabetes, this problem can be recurrent.

Dear doctor, I live with a roommate in a polytechnic we both attend.  She is always taking some form of medicine or the other for a problem she says affects her deeply.

According to her, she has a low libido. Doctor, we are both about 22 years old and I am confused about this. Can a young woman have a low libido? 0802xxxxxxx

Your question is interesting. I hope you are not the one who is swallowing all these medicines for the problem you described. Surely, young women of your age group have sometimes been described as suffering from a low libido. It is not common but it exists for various reasons. Some women have suffered sexual molestation, even abuse at a much earlier age and have developed an aversion to sex. Others have been scared stiff by stories told them by their mothers and grandmothers. As a result, they have become quite frigid adults.

What is alarming about your question is the fact that women do not have aphrodisiacs quite like men with their Viagra and other related medicines and, the female variant of Viagra is still several years away from pharmacy shops so I wonder what exactly she is taking.

Dear doctor, why does somebody have watery stool frequently? There is no stomach pain and no change in appetite. Why?  0703xxxxxxx

You have asked a very important question and I wish the answer was so simple. However, what seems likely is that such a person is probably taking a lot of junk food; pastries, sweets, biscuits, chocolates and real foods like beans and vegetables. If you thrive on a diet like this, you are likely to have the kind of stools you described. At the other end of the spectrum, there is such a troublesome thing called spurious diarrhoea which is seen in connection with certain terrifying diseases conditions like colon cancer. However, that is most likely to be associated with some abdominal pain and weight loss. If that does not apply to you, then take a hard look at what you eat and make appropriate changes. Punch

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