Haven’t we often dreamed of just being able to “fix” or “manipulate” that one gene in our bodies to make our lives better? Wouldn’t it be amazing if a mother’s touch of her infant could prevent future drug addictions?
Those dreams might not be that far off.
Power of a Mother’s Touch: A Quick History
Improve Cognition: For years, doctors and psychologists have encouraged mothers to stay in physical contact with their newborns. And in the spring of 2010, Dr. Tallie Z. Baram released findings that a mother’s touch not only provided security and comfort for infants but also improved cognitive functions and built resistance to stress.
Choose a Riskier Alternative: About the same time, another professor at Columbia University, Jonathan Levav, released a study in which undergraduate business students were asked to choose between safe and risky business options. Students who received a pat on the back from a woman while the instructions were given, were more likely to chose the risky option. The theory is that the physical touch of a woman might have triggered early associations, especially since a pat on the back from a man made no statistical difference as to which option the students chose.
How a Mother’s Touch Might Be Able to Prevent Morphine Addiction Cravings
In December 2010 researchers at Duke University (USA) and the University of Adelaide (Australia) released findings from their series of tests on rats to measure a rat’s susceptibility to morphine cravings after being handled by its mother.
Medical News Today described the interaction between morphine and the production of an immune system molecule, Interleukin-10 (IL-10) this way:
Morphine activates the glial cells of the brain to produce inflammatory molecules which signal a reward center of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. But IL-10 works against that inflammation and reward. The more IL-10 the brain produces, the less likely morphine would cause an increase in craving or relapse weeks after the initial experience with the drug.
So the more IL-10 the rats had, the more protected they would be against the craving for the drug. But the IL-10 is controlled by something called methylation, which suppresses the gene’s activity. If methylation is reduced, the body will produce more IL-10. So what helped to reduce the effectiveness of methylation? A mother’s touch.
Researchers put the rats through a series of tests and discovered that the rats who were handled by their mothers
- produced nearly four times the amount of IL-10.
- were far less susceptible to morphine cravings.
After learning about this research, I’m tempted to say “forget the teen anti-drug campaigns—just try holding our infants!” But the reality is that a mother’s nurturing won’t protect 100% against drug cravings. And none of us can go back and change our infant experience.
So what does this mean today?
I think this research challenges me to reach out to and to love those who need affection and support. At the core of a mother’s touch in infancy is the reality that we feel comforted and sustained by the touch. We might not always be able to physically reach out to those we love, but we can always let them know how much we care about them. And there’s no better time to let friends know you love them than when they are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction.
Who are you touching today?
- “A Mother’s Touch.” University of Irvine. Accessed January 13, 2012. http://www.uci.edu/features/2010/05/feature_sensory_100503.php
- “All About My Mother: How Touch Helps Us Take Risks” by Jabr Ferris. Accessed January 13, 2012. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=all-about-my-mother
- “A Mother’s Touch May Protect Against Drug Cravings Later.” Medical News Today. Accessed January 13, 2012. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/238773.php