The following article explores a compilation of studies with attention to the effects of massage therapy and its indications on decreasing cortisol­­, otherwise known as the “stress ­hormone”­­, and increasing serotonin and dopamine levels. In one study “Infants

[of depressed mothers] who experienced massage therapy. . .spent more time in active alert and active awake states, cried less, and had lower salivary cortisol levels (↓33%)…after the massage versus the rocking sessions…suggesting that massage may be more effective than rocking for inducing sleep.” In addition, the reduction of cortisol after massage on patients with autoimmune disorders “would be expected to lead to an increase in natural killer cells that, in turn, would be expected to improve conditions like HIV and cancer. In the case of the two studies reviewed here, one on HIV and one on breast cancer, both decreases in cortisol and increases in natural killer cells were noted.” Men with HIV who received daily massage for one month had significant decrease in urine cortisol by 45%, in turn increasing their natural killer cells. Results of another study also showed “decreases in job stress, anxiety, and depression.” The therapeutic properties of massage, specifically, in this case decreasing stress by lowering cortisol or increasing serotonin and dopamine or an increase and decrease in both, render many exciting possibilities in alleviating stress for a multitude of both physical and psychological cases.
Tiffany Field Maria Hernandez­Reif Miguel Diego, Touch Research Institutes University of Miami School of Medicine Miami, Florida, USA
Saul Schanberg, Cynthia Kuhn, Department of Pharmacology Duke University Medical School Durham, North Carolina, USA
Intern. J. Neuroscience, 2005

In this article the positive effects of massage therapy on biochemistry are reviewed including decreased levels of cortisol and increased levels of serotonin and dopamine. The research reviewed includes studies on depression (including sex abuse and eating disorder studies), pain syndrome studies, research on autoimmune conditions (including asthma and chronic fatigue), immune studies (including HIV and breast cancer), and studies on the reduction of stress on the job, the stress of aging, and pregnancy stress. In studies in which cortisol was assayed either in saliva or in urine, significant decreases were noted in cortisol levels (averaging decreases 31%). In studies in which the activating neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) were assayed in urine, an average increase of 28% was noted for serotonin and an average increase of 31% was noted for dopamine. These studies combined suggest the stress­alleviating effects (decreased cortisol) and the activating effects (increased serotonin and dopamine) of massage therapy on a variety of medical conditions and stressful experiences.

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