If we discovered a new vitamin that helped us live longer, prevent heart attacks, and cure depression, we would all want to take it.
In fact, there is such a vitamin. It is called vitamin P -- the P stands for pets.
Pet ownership provides multiple health benefits. And that is good news for Americans, because there are more pets in American households than kids -- more than 50 million dogs and 50 million cats.
We all know that techniques such as yoga and meditation can offer major health benefits by reducing stress. They're great. But did you know that the companionship of a dog can provide similar stress relief and other health benefits?
Numerous studies, including those funded by the National Institute of Health, show that dogs can provide better social support and stress relief than even our friends and family can offer.
New research even shows that owning a pet can reduce stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, improve immune system functioning and pain management, increase a sense of trust in others, reduce aggression, enhance empathy, and improve learning. In fact, these health benefits seem to be caused by an increase in oxytocin, a pituitary hormone released right after sex, as well as during breastfeeding, helping to create the mother-child bond. 
If you're really a dog lover, it's just about impossible to stay in a bad mood when your furry friend comes over and rests his head on your knee and looks at you with those loving eyes. Some studies show that just having a dog can actually control blood pressure better than drugs.
Health Benefits of Vitamin P
Here are some of the health benefits of dog companionship: 
- Increase longevity after heart attacks
- Lower cholesterol and triglycerides
- Improve blood pressure
- Reduce irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)
- Improve blood vessel (endothelial) function
- Increase physical activity and functioning
- Reduce medical appointments and minor health problems
- Predict seizures
- Alert to hypoglycemia
- Decrease depression
- Raise self-esteem
- Boost levels of exercise and physical activity
- Improve alertness and attention among elderly people who have pets
That's the good news. But Americans love to go on a trip or take a vacation, and when they do, what happens to the more than 100 million furry pets in American households? For many pet owners, this is a challenge. I loathe the idea of putting my dog Kobe in a kennel with cold cement floors, bad smells, and cages. Boarding a dog at a kennel can cause a lot of negative effects, and that sad look on his face just kills me. Fortunately, whenever I travel, I have found other pet lovers in my neighborhood who will watch my pooch and, in return, receive the health benefits of all that vitamin P while I am gone. Wouldn't it be great if you, too, had a community of trusted people in your neighborhood that would babysit your dog for free?
I was excited to learn about the fabulous idea of a Dog Care Exchange. Think of it as a big babysitting or sleepover network that can always provide a place for your dog to enjoy a sleepover with other dogs and be cared for by a loving family while you are gone. There is also the added benefit of giving your dog new friends to play with at his own house from time to time. It's a win-win for both dog and owner. And it's free, as long as you are a member of this new service called Dog Care Exchange.
Benefits to the Pet
Introduce your pet to a Dog Care Exchange member and create a trusting relationship between them. It puts your dog at ease, because he will be around people he knows, unlike at a kennel, where your dog would be surrounded by other potentially aggressive dogs that he has never met before.
A Dog Care Exchange member can work around your pet's daily routine to maintain regularity in play and sleep schedules and to keep feeding times consistent, which can help prevent digestive issues. Maintaining your dog's normal routine keeps him healthy in both body and mind and can balance his energy and activity levels, giving him a calmness you'll notice when you come home. Building relationships with Dog Care Exchange members is important so that you get the best possible care for your dog.
Less Exposure to Illness
Unlike kennels, Dog Care Exchange members don't house hundreds of other animals that may be infected with disease or parasites or may unleash overly aggressive energy on your unsuspecting pet. Keeping him in a place similar to his home surroundings will help prevent his exposure to the diseases that can lurk in and around kennels.
Individuals from the Dog Care Exchange who have already met your dog and who know his likes and dislikes can give him specialized attention rather than a cold, metal cage. A Dog Care Exchange member can fulfill your dog's need for undivided attention and personalized care much better than a kennel worker who must tend to several anxious creatures in the same space.
If you have a pet, you want to love him well, because as the research shows, he provides you with many health benefits -- the benefits of vitamin P. The Dog Care Exchange is a fabulous way to love your pet back by giving him new canine and human companions to play with while you are out of town. This whole idea just makes sense; it's better for you, for your pet, and for your wallet!
Check out the Dog Care Exchange, and find someone in your town to share the love and care of your furry friend.
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below -- but remember, we can't offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.
(i) Beetz A, Uvnäs-Moberg K, Julius H, Kotrschal K. Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Front Psychol. 2012;3:234.
(ii) Arhant-Sudhir K, Arhant-Sudhir R, Sudhir K. Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk reduction: supporting evidence, conflicting data and underlying mechanisms. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2011 Nov;38(11):734-8.
Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a five-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.
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