A romantic kiss awakened Sleeping Beauty from a deep sleep. And it was a peck on the lips that transformed a frog into a man in another fairy tale.
While these classic scenes are from animated, fictitious stories, the benefits of kissing are real. Maybe equally as thrilling as the romance factor is that kissing reduces stress, too.
Kissing helps to reduce cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” produced by the adrenal gland. Some levels of cortisol in the body are good because it helps to regulate sugar levels and keep the immune system calm.
But, too much of it can wreak havoc on the body, increasing blood pressure, body weight and depression. That’s where kissing comes in, says Mimi Secor, a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts.
“Kissing definitely helps people lower stress levels, and takes us out of that ‘fight or flight’ state. We are always on 24/7 and nobody has down time anymore, so kissing helps ease our stress,” Secor says.
“It also gives us sense of well-being,” she adds.
Dr. Cedric Bright, an internal medicine physician and president of the National Medical Association, agrees that there are benefits to kissing, although there is not much literature on the topic.
A 2009 study by Dr. Wendy Hill, a neuroscience professor, and her students at Lafayette College in Pa., explores this connection between kissing and lower cortisol levels.
Hill, who is also provost and dean of faculty at Lafayette, studied pairs of heterosexual couples who kissed for 15 minutes. The group’s blood and saliva levels of cortisol were measured before and after kissing, and cortisol levels were lower after.
The study also found changes in the levels of the hormone oxytocin in the men who participated in the study. Increased oxytocin levels were linked to the men’s interest in emotionally bonding, according to information reported on Dr. Hill’s study.
So, we know passionate puckers can be soul rousing for the giver and the receiver, and ebb stress at the same time, but the benefits do not end there. The NIH even cites a Japanese study that links kissing to lower levels of allergy symptoms.
Kissing can also burn calories. Yep, that’s right. Kissing can burn up to two calories per minute, especially long passionate kisses.
But, with something so good, there must be a down side.
Secor mentions, as a reminder, “STDs such as oral herpes can be transmitted during kissing mouth-to-mouth, and approximately 80 percent of Americans have oral herpes. Upwards of 40 percent of genital herpes originates with oral herpes.”
“The human papilloma virus can also be spread by kissing. About seven percent of the population is estimated to have HPV in their throats,” she says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other communicable diseases, such as viral and bacterial meningitis, influenza, and upper respiratory tract infections such as colds can be contracted through saliva.
“[But] no one is thinking about what disease you might be spreading when you’re kissing,” Secor says.
Research by the British Dental Health Foundation shows that passionate kissing increases the flow of saliva, which is a great boost to oral health. Dentist Mathew Messina said in a WedMD article that kissing could help reduce tooth decay because the increased saliva washes away bacteria off teeth and decreases plaque formation.
Oh, and since kissing employs facial muscles, it can help keep a few frown lines in check, too, the Daily Mail reports.
Tally up the points for a heavy petting session, and you will be swayed to set your lips for a smooch.
Lovers, pucker up and lock those lips. Fairytale princesses do it. Even Canadian porcupines even do it. So get to it. You can reduce stress, nurture your relationship, and even burn a few calories all at once. The more you do it, the better.
One kiss can bring better health and lift your spirits — now that’s a kiss to remember.
Kimberly N. Alleyne is a veteran journalist and communications professional who writes about public health and health care policy, religion and social justice issues. Follow her on twitter at @kimalleyne.