Believe it or not, there are significant effects to hugging another person. In a study from Carnegie Mellon University in 2015, people who had great social support in the form of a hug, had fewer colds than a control group. Four hundred and four adults were studied. Dr. Sheldon Cohen who was the lead author of the study concluded that “hugging protects people who are under stress”.

Experts attribute the effects of a hug—usually about a one-minute hug—to the hormone oxytocin, often called the bonding hormone. In Obstetrics we know it as a hormone that bonds a mother with her newborn baby. Made in the center of the brain, it is released into the bloodstream and much of it remains in the brain where it influences moods and behavior.

Having someone hug you before a major event like an exam, a speech, or a trying event like a divorce proceeding, can make you calm and relaxed and better able to handle the stress.

What are some of the things to worry about with the onset of spring?

We have had a very wet winter with rain and snow and now we are about to enter the season of spring. Spring is the second peak season for the common cold, and this is most likely due to the increase of seasonal allergies. Barometric pressures change, temperatures and wind changes can irritate the nasal passages and your airways. The immune system can be compromised and find it difficult to ward off invaders with consequential vulnerability to infection.

People go outside with little dress to feel the freedom of the warm climate after being cooped indoors all winter. Viruses thrive in the warmer temperatures. Springtime also ushers in the seasons of travel: vacations, conventions, and even spring break. Spring is the time of “rebirth”, budding trees, bushes and flowers. Wasps and bees make their nests and swarm picnic tables and camp out in the lawn furniture that has been dormant all winter. Molds abound in the warm humid air and feed your allergies.

Spring is a beautiful although tough time to be outside for the sneezing and wheezing adult or child. We generally give medications to highly allergic people at the beginning of the spring season—about two weeks before the symptoms are expected.

Some common conditions to worry about are Lyme disease (from the deer ticks), allergies, asthma, rhinoviruses (the cause of 50% of all colds), conjunctivitis or “pink eye”, and finally norovirus (a dreadful infection that spreads rapidly causing abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea).

Why are the vegetables that smell so bad, so good for you?

Three smelly vegetables come to mind when we are discussing health benefits. They are onions, garlic and leeks. All three are very odiferous and have amazing properties.

Onions are a source of a substance called Quercetan which has all sorts of benefits for those with heart disease. It is a natural anticlotting drug because it has actions on platelets (those particles in blood that cause blood to clot). It is present in apples and teas, but not in the concentrations that one finds in onions. Onions may also lower blood pressure and affect heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol.

By the way, onions make you tear up because of a gas that is emitted when you cut into it called propanethiol S-oxide. If you do not wish to cry when cutting an onion, place it is the refrigerator for one hour and then do your slicing.

Then there is garlic which many people ingest daily. “I do it for my blood pressure” says one of my patients. Garlic does lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It also benefits diabetes and supposedly plays a role in the prevention of atherosclerosis. In fact, one small study showed that garlic daily for three months resulted in fewer colds. It is one of the smelliest of the vegetables.

Lastly there are leeks, which are probably the least offensive of these “smelly veggies”. They are like large scallions but have a sweeter and milder flavor. In fact, leeks belong to the same family as onions, garlic and shallots. Leeks have the most amazing properties and have been associated with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Various investigators have given leeks amazing properties: anti-microbial, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-osteoporotic. Leeks have properties that exceed all the other smelly vegetables and it might be due to a compound within them called kaempferol, a very powerful vitamin in the flavonoid family.

The bottom line is that vegetables can have major health benefits if both you and your friends can handle the smells.

What are the effects of light on our biology, especially in the spring when the days are longer?

This topic is one of my favorites. Every organ and tissue of our body operates according to biological rhythms. This body clock keeps all our organs running on schedule. We call this the circadian rhythm. Your temperature, sleep cycle, and appetite are all regulated by this rhythm. This timing goes right down to the genes that are expressed in the millions of cells that construct our organ systems. All organisms from fruit flies to people rely on these natural rhythms directed by light cycles. There are in the center of your brain some 20,000 nerve cells that respond to light and dark and considered the master clock which governs all other clocks within us. Humans are diurnal, meaning that we are active during the light of the day in contrast to nocturnal people who are most active at night.

One substance inhibited by light is melatonin which is low during the day and in higher amount during the night when we need to sleep. Therefore, use of smart phones, TV, computer screens, and tablets that emit light at night can disrupt sleep.

I can recall being in northern Norway near the north pole one summer when there was perpetual sunlight and it was never dark. I had huge dark shades to place over my hotel windows to allow me to sleep. In the winter the reverse is the case and artificial light must be used to maintain the circadian rhythm. At such times the rate of suicide rises and many people suffer from depression.