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The scientific benefits of tears

Diagram of the tear gland and tear duct in the eye.
Diagram of the tear gland and tear duct in the eye.

The complexities of the human body are varied and innumerable.  Although we will probably never fully understand this amazing creation, scientists have spent years conducting studies on the bodily functions to bring us closer to this goal.  As a result, many of us are now aware of how important these natural processes are for our survival and well-being.  However, one bodily function that is often overlooked is lacrimation, or the secretion of tears.

Our tear glands produce three types of tears: reflex, continuous, and emotional (1).  Each type benefits our body in some way.  For example, when our eyes become irritated by external factors, reflex tears help to flush them out (1).  Continuous tears, on the other hand, are constantly being secreted (2).  When we blink, continuous tears come in contact with the surface of our eyes to keep them lubricated (2).  In addition to these functions, tears are able to protect our eyes from infection because they contain the chemical lysozyme, which prevents the growth of bacteria (2).  However, eyes are not the sole beneficiaries of these properties.  Because some of our tears are redirected into the nose through the tear duct, the nose also remains lubricated and bacteria free (2).

However, perhaps the most interesting discovery about lacrimation was made by biochemist Dr. William Frey II,Ph.D.  Dr. Frey found that, unlike reflex tears, which are 98% water, emotional tears are much more complex (3).  These tears, which are secreted when we are sad, angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed in any way, have 24% more of the protein-based hormones: prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and leucine enkephalin (3)(2).  These protein-based hormones, which our body produces due to stress, reduce our ability to function (4).  Therefore, when we shed emotional tears, our body is excreting toxins (4).  As a result, for many, crying is usually a cathartic experience (4).  

In addition to protecting the body from high levels of stress hormones, crying emotional tears has also been linked to the release of endorphins (5).  Because endorphins numb pain and improve mood, this is another reason why crying tends to make us feel better (5).  These mental effects of crying are also reflected in the altered physical state it results in.  Generally after crying, our breathing, sweating, and heart rate decrease, and we enter a more relaxed state (5).

Therefore, it is evident that tears serve a variety of functions in our body.  They have the potential to make us happier, healthier, and improve our overall well-being.  So, the next time you feel as though you might cry, don't let your denial, social stigmas, or even the fear of ruining your makeup get in the way.  Help your body to cope with the stress.  Go ahead…have a good cry.


  1. Join the blub: The benefits of crying
  2. The Science of Tears
  3. Why Crying is Good for You
  4. Possible health benefits of crying
  5. Let it Out: The Benefits of Crying