Kissing: A healthy social exchange or a great way to spread infectious germs?
Primates, lions, birds, moose, even elephants… they all kiss. Bonobo monkeys even kiss with open mouths. And humans?
On average, we spend up to 2 weeks kissing in our lifetime. So there must be something healthy about it, right?
The science of kissing actually has a name: philematology. Research on the subject from the American Association for the Advancement of Science hints at what many already believe – in many ways, kissing is good for you.
Kissing burns calories; 2-3 calories a minute to be precise. Kissing might even help you lose weight, says Bryant Stamford, PhD, professor and director of the health promotion center at the University of Louisville. "During a really, really passionate kiss, you might burn two calories a minute -- double your metabolic rate," he says. Research claims that three passionate kisses a day (lasting at least 20 seconds each) can cause you to loose an entire extra pound. Now there’s a diet you may be able to stick with.
Long kisses are beneficial to our circulatory system. When kissing, our pulse rate can race up to 110 beats per minute. So yes, your heart does beat faster before, during and after a kiss. Our lungs work harder too, resulting in 60 inhales per minute compared to regular 20 inhales. Such “ventilation” is known to be a good preventive measure against lung diseases.
So yes, kissing is good for the heart. A little necking creates an adrenaline which causes your heart to pump more blood around your body. Frequent kissing has scientifically been proven to stabilize cardiovascular activity, decrease blood pressure and cholesterol.
During a kiss, there will be release of several hormones in a human body that can create a state of well-being, pleasure, and/or even thrill. The main hormone among these is Dopamine. Our brains get signaled to produce oxytocin, a hormone that makes us feel good. It's a scientific fact that biology like this causes one kiss to prompt another (as if you didn’t know that already.)
Kissing is also known to be a good stress-reliever. Besides using a kiss as a great way of making up after an argument, just about any kiss good can lower your cortisol hormone levels. These are the hormones that are directly associated with ‘stress’ in your body and that help relieve tension. Additionally, kissing induces many of the same helpful brain waves and chemistry changes that meditation often effect.
Ever feel light headed during a good kiss? During a, are we say, passionate kiss, our blood vessels dilate and our brains receive more oxygen than normal. Cheeks flush, pulses quicken and our pupils dilate (which may be one reason that so many of us close our eyes). That dreamy feeling may just be science at work.
So do people actually see stars while making out? Do fireworks explode, or does the earth shake after a really good smooch? The scientific data has yet to prove that with humans. And as of yet, the Bonobo monkeys ain’t kiss and telling.
Ancient Egyptians kissed with their noses. Eskimos, Polynesians and Malaysians still do. Why?
The Tsonga people of southern Africa find pressing two person's lips against each other repulsive, “They eat each other’s saliva and dirt!” And during the swine-flu scare, the French put a ban on what they call ‘la bise’.
Do they all know something about germs that we don’t?
During any exchange of bodily fluids there is a risk of transmitting infectious agents. However, the body has defense systems in place to prevent infection. When we kiss, our tongues are covered with little bumps called papillae that feature 9,000 to 10,000 taste buds designed expressly to react with foreign substances. Luckily, they are also covered with saliva.
Saliva contains powerful antibacterial chemicals that kill most bacteria before the germs from a kiss are passed on. Some dentists say that extra saliva helps prevent tooth decay. Scientists even agree that a little smooching does stimulate the flow of salvia that eliminates acid coating on teeth.
ABOVE: Infectious Mononucleosis
But no one ever got a sick day from built up plaque. What about transmitting something like Mono? After all, it has been called kissing disease.
“Mono certainly can be spread by kissing,” says Dr. Todd Zimmerman, Director Of EmergiKids at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network. “However,” he adds, “a small kiss on the lips will not necessarily spread Mono.”
Dr. Zimmerman points out that the sharing of saliva, i.e. heavy kissing, sharing utensils or even sharing a cup or glass with someone that is infected increases the chances significantly of spreading EBV (ebstein barr virus), the actual mono virus. But mono, like many other infections, can also be transmitted by other means, such as coughing or sneezing.
So is kissing worse than shaking hands? Again, Dr. Zimmerman puts it in good perspective. “I think the message is that both can spread germs, and one should be aware that kissing and shaking hands can spread germs, and that proper and frequent hand washing is essential to maintain your healthy lifestyle.”
Would you still want to kiss someone with the flu? Aside from the fact that the other person might not be looking their best, some viruses may be a little too potent for your front-line defense of spit. A really bad flu may be one of them. Many other viral infections such as a herpes simplex virus are easily transmitted by kissing. And Hepatitis A can also be transmitted through saliva.
So maybe the Ancient Egyptians, Eskimos, Polynesians and Malaysians know best. The safest way to kiss may be to never touch lips.
We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions.
IMPORTANT: The information on this page, and throughout the entire site, is not intended to provide advice or treatment for a specific situation. Consult your physician and medical team for information and treatment plans on your specific condition(s). Images are shown for illustrative purposes. Do not attempt to draw conclusions or make diagnoses by comparing these image to other medical images, particularly your own.
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