What takes your breath away to look at just might also keep you healthy, according to a new study from the University of California at Berkeley that makes the anti-inflammatory diet seem tempting to follow.
The anti-inflammatory diet is used to describe approaches by well-known nutrition experts such as Dr. Barry Sears, creator of the Zone diet, and Dr. Andrew Weil of Harvard University, who specializes in preventative medicine.
While each expert puts a different twist on it, the goal of such a diet is better overall health by reducing inflammation in the body.
Now, the new study suggests that the joyful moments we experience when confronted by natural, spiritual or artistic wonders are linked to lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
These cytokines serve the function of calling immune cells to arms, but if they remain in the body in high quantities they can do harm: for example, they are associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimers.
In the study, the team conducted two experiments involving more than 200 young adults who kept journals in which they reported their positive emotions.
The team took samples of their gum and cheek tissue and concluded that levels of the cytokine Interleukin 6 -- an indicator of inflammation -- were lowest on days when they experienced emotions such as awe, wonder and amazement.
"That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions -- a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art -- has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy," says co-author Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at UC Berkeley.
The study was published in the journal Emotion.