More Facets of Oxytocin

Various characteristics of oxytocin have been identified over the years. Mainly, this substance is all about intimacy. It shows up for dramatic events like sex and childbirth, and for more sedate activities like breastfeeding and gentle cuddling. A person falling in love is awash with oxytocin, and it also smoothes social relationships that are less crucial than lifelong mating. The street drug known as ecstasy is popular because it calls up oxytocin.

Among the autistic, there seem to be some indications that the hormone helps to build attentiveness to facial stimuli and enhance social aptitude. All these things are wonderful, but here is the biggie. Earlier this year, the open-access journal PLOS published a very long and detailed paper by researchers from the National Institutes of Health and The Scripps Research Institute, artfully summarized by, and here is the gist of it:

The neuropeptide oxytocin blocks enhanced drinking in alcohol-dependent rats… Targeting the oxytocin system, the authors note, may provide novel pharmaceutical interventions for the treatment of alcohol-use disorder.

Administering oxytocin can decrease consumption, withdrawal symptoms, and drug-seeking behavior associated with several drugs of abuse.

As we have seen, any approach that successfully treats alcohol or drug addiction might work on addiction to food and/or compulsive overeating. It might, in other words, not only treat obesity, but prevent it from happening. These developments are worth keeping an eye on.

There is a thing called the “tend and defend” response, which mothers and fathers have for their children. Daniel Quintana, a biological psychiatry researcher at the University of Oslo, told journalist Brian Resnick,

If you administer oxytocin to virgin rats, all of a sudden they begin acting like mothers, and they start collecting all the pups, building nests, and all these kinds of things… Behaviorally, oxytocin appears to draw our attention to personal relationships but doesn’t necessarily direct the emotions of them.

A human male, presented with his newborn child, might totally comprehend, for the first time, the willingness to kill 100 other human beings for the sake of one infant. So while oxytocin helps people and especially families to bond, it can also bring out the worst in us. If our kind of people are the best, then it stands to reason that the other kind of people must be the worst.

But wait, that is not the whole picture. Now, turn it around 180 degrees. Resnick also reported,

[…] a whiff of oxytocin could make people more willing to open up and share painful stories with strangers. They suggested oxytocin might improve theory of mind, or the understanding that other people have thoughts and intentions different from your own.

That last-mentioned idea goes back to the hopes for aiding people on the autism spectrum.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Oxytocin could help treat alcohol use disorder,”, 04/16/19
Source: “Oxytocin, the so-called “hug hormone,” is way more sophisticated than we thought,”, 02/13/19
Photo credit: Eric Kilby on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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