Is Gratitude Healthy?

By Andrew Weil


Question: I recently heard that being grateful is good for you - that it boosts the immune system. This sounds far-fetched to me. Is there anything to it?

Answer: Maybe. Investigators engaged in "happiness research" have made a case for gratitude as a contributor to health and well-being. These studies are an outgrowth of positive psychology research, which focuses on what makes individuals happier, fulfilled, and engaged in life. Gratitude is an example of a positive state of mind that can reduce risk of depression.

In terms of measurable health benefits, researchers maintain that gratitude fosters optimism, which has been shown to positively influence the immune system. Optimism and other positive emotions are also associated with lowered production of the stress hormone cortisol and with reduced risk of chronic disease.

A study published in February, 2003, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that participants who kept weekly gratitude journals exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the coming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. The same researchers have reported that while grateful people don't deny or ignore the negative aspects of life, they tend to report positive emotions, life satisfaction, and vitality as well as greater optimism and lower levels of depression and stress than people who are not grateful.

Cultivating the habit of gratitude isn't a bad idea, especially as we move into the new year. A weekly gratitude journal could keep you focused on the positive aspects of life instead of its frustrations. Simply pausing daily to list a few things you have to be grateful for can enhance your health and happiness.

We all can find reasons to be grateful: people we're close to, the beauty and bounty of nature, pets and the companionship they offer and, of course, our health.

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Question: Should I Give Up Coffee While Pregnant?

Answer: The answer to your question is a qualified yes. It is all right to drink some coffee while you're pregnant, but not too much. I checked about this with Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., director of the Fellowship at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and an expert on women's health. She suggests limiting your consumption to one to two cups per day, especially during the first trimester. If you are used to drinking more than one to two cups of coffee per day, Dr. Low Dog recommends mixing some decaf with regular to cut down on your caffeine intake.

The concern focuses on the potential adverse effects of caffeine. Researchers have found that consuming the amount of caffeine in five or more cups of coffee per day doubles the risk of miscarriage. One-and-one-half to two cups of brewed coffee contains about 200 mg of caffeine; you would get half that amount in two cups of brewed tea.

There's no evidence that moderate caffeine consumption of 200 mg daily from coffee, green tea or other beverages increases the risk of miscarriage. And while a cup of green tea typically contains only half the caffeine found in a cup of coffee, some brands of brewed imported green tea can deliver as much as 110 mg of caffeine per cup, almost as much as you would get in some brewed coffee. When estimating your daily caffeine intake, remember to add in other sources of caffeine in your diet, such as soft drinks and energy drinks.

Fortunately, no studies have found any connections between caffeine and birth defects, low birth weight, a baby's motor development or intelligence. But because caffeine can enter breast milk, you'll also need to watch your coffee and tea consumption if you plan to breastfeed your baby. In that case, limit your caffeine intake to 300 mg daily.   ###


Andrew Weil, M.D., is a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, a healing oriented approach to health care which encompasses body, mind, and spirit.
Combining a Harvard education and a lifetime of practicing natural and preventive medicine, Dr. Weil is the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (AzCIM) at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, in Tucson, where he is also a Clinical Professor of Medicine and Professor of Public Health and the Lovell-Jones Professor of Integrative Rheumatology. Dr. Weil received both his medical degree and his undergraduate AB degree in biology (botany) from Harvard University.
Dr. Weil is an internationally-recognized expert for his views on leading a healthy lifestyle, his philosophy of healthy aging, and his critique of the future of medicine and health care. Approximately 10 million copies of Dr. Weil's books have been sold, including Spontaneous Healing and Why Our Health Matters.

Online, he is the editorial director of drweil.com, the leading web resource for healthy living based on the philosophy of integrative medicine. He can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/DrWeil, Twitter at twitter.com/DrWeil, and Dr. Weil's Daily Health Tips blog at drweilblog.com.