The neurohormone oxytocin, comprising nine amino acids, is made in the hypothalamus and stored in the pituitary gland. The brain and gonads can manufacture it too. Way back in 1955, it was the first polypeptide hormone to be synthesized, for which a Nobel Prize was awarded. It has been widely used for obstetrical purposes.
Oxytocin is of course produced in volume during the first six months of being in love, and in the presence of one’s newborn child. When it hits the brain, it can affect cognition, emotionality, and social behavior. This is why it has been tried in the treatment of schizophrenia, autism, and depression. It is said to facilitate relaxation, attachment, altruism, bonding, psychological stability, and quick healing of the intestinal lining, which is very helpful to people with certain conditions.
The early part of 2019 saw an explosion of interest in oxytocin. In fact, speaking of love, word came from Baylor University that when a couple plays a board game, they get an oxytocin rush, and even more so if they take a painting class together. On average, the men who paint release at least twice as much oxytocin as the women painters, and more than either sex playing board games.
Also, research seems to have confirmed what marriage counselors have long advised — that a couple should take some time and go away together, because in new environments they release more oxytocin than if they stay home. (No doubt, other studies say the opposite, and confirm that travel can be stressful enough to destroy the fabric of a relationship.) Still, all the positive benefits whose confirmation seems to lurk on the horizon are very important. The happier a person is, the less likely that person is to engage in self-destructive behaviors like compulsive overeating.
In his 2011 TEDGlobal talk, neuroeconomist Paul Zak suggested that this chemical produced by the body can “make people more trusting, more empathetic, and, therefore, more moral.” Oxytocin has in fact been called the “morality molecule.” All of which urges the question: If this stuff can make you feel like you’re in love, inspire you to be a better person, and fix your irritable bowel syndrome, why isn’t it being sold on every street corner?
Actually, it kind of is. A very large Internet company sells it as a love potion, or pheromone, whose purpose is to attract a mate. The fact that such a useful substance can be manufactured and prescribed to humans is pretty exciting, and many doctors have in fact engaged in “off-label” recommendations.
And why not? If oxytocin helps people suffering from specific named conditions to overcome their social deficits, why must health professionals require a diagnosis? Why not make it available to anyone with mild social unease, who just needs an instant personality re-do?
The answer is, because it can backfire. Like any other psychoactive chemical, it can act differently in different individuals. If increased awareness of non-vocal social cues causes a painful hypersensitivity, that can only make matters worse. Oxytocin is full of paradoxes.
Journalist Brian Resnick, quoted previously, went on to note that the majority of jaw-dropping reports about oxytocin are probably false positives. Apparently, there is plenty of “confirmation bias” afoot. Many people are more than ready for this to be a miracle drug, a silver bullet, and so far, it is not.
Except, perhaps, as an anti-obesity or anti-addiction drug.
(To be continued…)
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Oxytocin,” Britannica.com, undated
Source: “Couples creating art or playing board games release ‘love hormone’,” MedicalXpress.com, 02/12/19
Source: “Oxytocin, the so-called “hug hormone,” is way more sophisticated than we thought,” Vox.com, 02/13/19
Photo credit: Canadian Couple 2013 on Visualhunt/CC BY-ND