The Daily Mail reports that researchers are using oxytocin nasal spray to treat women with interstitial cystitis, or chronic inflammation of the bladder wall. The trial is based on the observation that breast feeding women (who have naturally raised levels of oxytocin) often have cystitis symptoms reduced. Those behind the trial at the University of Alabama believe that oxytocin has analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
Many studies have been published recently linking oxytocin to social behaviours such as trust, altruism, and even sexual attractiveness. Now, researchers at an Israeli university have identified a link between such behaviours and a specific variation in a person’s DNA that acts as a brain receptor for oxytocin.
The Hebrew University researchers evaluated altruism using a game that included real payoffs. Subjects made decisions regarding a series of social dilemmas concerning the distribution of money for themselves and another player and were rated as either prosocial (looking to maximize joint outcomes), or proself (looking to maximize their individual outcomes). The researchers found that individuals who carried a simple variant (G rather than T) in one DNA letter located in the oxytocin receptor were much more likely to share their endowment with another player and to prefer prosocial outcomes.
An oxytocin study being carried out at the Stanford University School of Medicine hopes to discover what role, if any, the hormone plays in causing autism. The importance of oxytocin in forming social bonds is now widely documented. At this stage, the inference that the ‘trust hormone’ might be lacking or in some way not working effectively in those with autism, is still no more than optimistic speculation. If the researchers do, however, discover some kind of relationship, it is hoped that at the very least, blood tests could be introduced to enable a more objective and earlier diagnosis, and perhaps even the development of the first effective pharmaceutical treatments for autism.
The Times reports today that a passionate kiss releases a surge of oxytocin into the brain, making a lover feel happy, excited or relaxed. A study at Lafayette College, Pennsylvania found that kissing reduced the levels of cortisal (a stress hormone) in both the male and female participants, raised the levels of oxytocin in the male volunteers, but unexpectedly, not the women.
This was an unexpected result but Hill and her co-researchers believe the fact that the tests were carried out in an unromantic campus health centre also played a part. Over the past year they have run the tests again in a softer setting complete with romantic background music.
I wouldn’t call it unexpected at all. From what is becoming manifestly clear, oxytocin is a chemical produced by the brain in order to promote long-term bonding. In an unromantic setting, it would clearly not be in a female’s interest to establish such bonding as a result of a sexual encounter. Of course, romance doesn’t play such a huge part in the male sexual response, thus it is no surprise that a man’s oxytocin levels can rise even in such an artificial lab style setting.
I thought it would be useful to summarise why Oxytocin is attracting so much scientific and media interest.
Oxytocin is a hormone, and therefore, a naturally occurring substance produced by the human body. Women have this hormone in their systems to a greater level than men, and it has been found to increase during and after child birth, giving scientists the first indication that the hormone may play a role in the psychological bonding between mother and child. Further research has found increased levels of Oxytocin are associated with feelings of less stress and greater trust and empathy, leading the hormone to earn the media tag of ‘the love hormone’ or ‘the cuddle hormone’.
There has recently been an explosion of research across various institutes across the world seeking to confirm the role of Oxytocin in creating empathic psychological states and its consequent possible benefits in treating psychological problems ranging from social anxiety to autism and schizophrenia.
It is unlikely that we will be seeing Oxytocin drugs or pills anytime soon, as it has been found that the only effective delivery method to get the hormone inside the blood stream is to inhale it through the nose. Thus, it is likely that any Oxytocin medical or commercial uses of Oxytocin in the near future will come in the form of Oxytocin nasal sprays.
Here is a brief list of what Oxytocin Nasal Sprays might do for individuals and for society :
- Reduce social anxiety and shyness in individuals
- Treat the symptoms of Autism and asperger’s syndrome
- Treat the secondary and possibly even the primary symptoms (delusions) of paranoid schizophrenics
- Help couples maintain relationships
- Reduce levels of stress
- Increase attractiveness to the opposite sex
- Help businessmen make sales (by increasing trust and empathy)
- Help people to pass interviews
- Reduce anti-social behaviour in schools, crowds etc
- Be (misused) by advertisers and politicians seeking to ‘sell’ their goods or promises
It’s not difficult to see why interest in Oxytocin is growing, not only are there big bucks to be made from successful commercial and medical applications, the hormone could have radical effects on society and culture itself. If you think back to the changes wrought in the 1960’s due to the widespread use of mood altering drugs such as LSE and consider that Oxytocin might become a safe and legal substance providing the positive social effects and more from such drugs, without the negative ones, then we really could be on the brink of a new flower power era.
A study carried out by the University of Michigan found that caregivers tended to have increased life expectancy. What is interesting about this study is that the results have been interpreted as indicating that the physiological benefits associated with caregiving bring are responsible for the increase and that those physiological benefits are caused by an increase in oxytocin.
Brown believes that the decreased risk of death comes from physiological benefits from caregiving instead of psychological ones. The authors suggest that stress regulation may play a role in this benefit. Helping others is associated with a release of oxytocin, a hormone that may help buffer the effects of stress, Brown explained.
The corallation between the reduction of feelings of stress and the raising of oxytocin in the blood stream is seemingly borne out in a new study almost every day. There can be little remaining doubt that oxytocin is the chemical instrument that the body uses when it wants and needs to ‘feel good’. From reduced stress, lowered blood pressure, decreased social inhibitions, the evidence relating these to increased oxytocin levels can no longer be ignored. Just imagine the power to transform lives oxytocin may give us when we can efficiently manufacture and transport it into the body ourselves whenever we want.
The following link is to a story concerning a new study showing that touching and physical contact decreases a range of stress related symptoms whilst simultaneously increasing levels of oxytocin.