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    Oxytocin: How The Love Hormone Affects Humans

    By Irshad Anwar
    24 Jan'23  7 min read
    Oxytocin: How The Love Hormone Affects Humans

    Do you know how oxytocin is released and stored, its mechanism of action? Why is it known as a social drug and sometimes a love hormone? How does oxytocin affect humans and what part does it play in our social behaviour? To find an explanation to all these questions, keep reading… 

    Oxytocin: How The Love Hormone Affects Humans

    Do you know how oxytocin is released and stored, its mechanism of action? Why is it known as a social drug and sometimes a love hormone? How does oxytocin affect humans and what part does it play in our social behaviour? To find an explanation to all these questions, keep reading… 

    A neurotransmitter and hormone involved in childbirth and breastfeeding is oxytocin. It is also related to developing relationships, sexual activity, trust, and empathy.

    Oxytocin is useful in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including intestinal problems, depression, and anxiety. According to research, it may help those who are dealing with anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, and autistic spectrum disorders.

    Mechanism Of Action

    Following Sir Henry Dale's discovery of its uterine-contracting properties in 1906, the word "oxytocin" was created from the Greek words meaning "quick birth."

    Oxytocin and vasopressin, which are actually produced by the hypothalamus-a part of the brain- and transported axonally to the neurohypophysis, are two hormones that are stored and released by the neurohypophysis (pars nervosa), also known as the posterior pituitary.

    The hypothalamus, located close to the base of our brains, is where oxytocin is made. Following production, oxytocin travels from the hypothalamus to the rest of the brain and then, via the pituitary gland, through the body. However, when oxytocin is released into specific regions of the brain, it can affect emotional, cognitive, and social behaviour. When oxytocin enters the bloodstream, it affects the uterus and lactation.

    In the human body, there are about a million oxytocin receptors. Oxytocin is the key, and these tiny receptors are like locks. Oxytocin acts as a key to unlocking the oxytocin receptors, activating them to cause certain bodily reactions.

    For instance, during childbirth, the body releases a significant amount of oxytocin, which activates the oxytocin receptors in the uterus. These receptors trigger contraction of the uterus, which assists in birthing. Later, during breastfeeding, the mother's brain releases oxytocin to encourage the production of breast milk. However, oxytocin does not only affect females; it also affects males and females equally in the regulation of blood pressure and kidney functions.

    Artificial Oxytocin

    Oxytocin, when administered as a nasal spray, can alter important facets of social behaviour, such as how quickly we can identify emotions in others. Scientists have been experimenting with oxytocin nasal spray as a potential treatment for autism, which frequently causes difficulties in understanding and using social information. But how does it actually work?

    The nerves inside the nasal cavity that connect to the brain are thought to be the route by which nasal spray enters the brain. Numerous areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and brain stem, have been known to be affected by synthetic oxytocin nasal spray. In order to assist mothers who are struggling to give birth or breastfeed, doctors will occasionally prescribe oxytocin through a nasal spray.

    Role Of Oxytocin In Social Behaviour

    Recent studies have revealed that the oxytocin system also plays a crucial role in how mammals establish and maintain complex interpersonal relationships, such as romantic ones. These interactions are referred to as "social behaviours”. How we act and communicate with others. This includes how we act in front of a single individual or a group of individuals (such as a class of kids or a family).

    The first cues about the social function of oxytocin came from animal studies carried out in the 1970s and 1980s. Female rats do not pay much attention to other rats' pups. It turns out that this behaviour is interestingly reversed when oxytocin is administered to female rats who have never given birth to their own young. These female rats exhibit motherly traits toward pups that are not their own, including licking and nest-building.

    Effects Of Oxytocin On Humans

    According to other research, those who struggle with social behaviour (such as having a hard time making friends or finding love) have lower levels of the oxytocin in their blood than those who do not experience these difficulties. Scientists started looking into the impact of administering oxytocin to people as a nasal spray based on these findings and earlier research on animals. It was hoped that administering oxytocin as a medication might enhance some social behaviours in individuals who struggle in these areas. Researchers also found that oxytocin increases people's loyalty to their friends and families.

    Changes in certain regions of the brain, crucial for processing social information, are linked to improvement. Oxytocin receptors are abundant in these regions.

    Social Hormone

    Nonetheless, oxytocin has some negative effects as well. Researchers have since discovered that oxytocin affects both positive and negative emotions. For instance, administering oxytocin leads to an increase in unfavourable emotions like envy and pleasure from other people's problems. Oxytocin increases our willingness to cooperate with members of our own social group while decreasing our willingness to cooperate with those outside of our social groups. Therefore, calling oxytocin a "social" hormone, which is responsible for a variety of social behaviours, both positive and negative is right. Our social behaviour and comprehension of social situations are thought to be affected by oxytocin in two main ways. The first method involves increasing our sensitivity to social cues, whether favourable or unfavourable. The second is by enhancing our desire to approach and engage with others.

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    How Does Oxytocin Affect Behaviour?

    Researchers have been able to monitor the behavioural effects of oxytocin by nasal spray delivery.

    In 2011, a research published in Psychopharmacology journal, intranasal oxytocin was found to enhance personality traits like warmth, trust, altruism, and openness. It also improved self-perception in social situations.

    By engaging the brain's reward centres, oxytocin may help individuals remain loyal to their partners, according to a study published in 2013 PNAS (The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

    The Love Hormone?

    As oxytocin is linked with trust, relationship building, and sexual arousal, it's sometimes referred to as the “cuddle chemical” or “love hormone in human body.” When parents and children look at each other or cuddle, oxytocin naturally induces feelings of love and protection.

    According to researchers, the first stages of romantic attachment were associated with higher oxytocin levels when compared to non-attached singles. These levels persist for at least six months. Oxytocin is released in response to sexual activity, and it may play a part in erection and orgasm. Some have suggested that the level of oxytocin and the strength of the orgasm are correlated.

    How To Increase Oxytocin Level

    Depression, including postpartum depression, has been associated with low oxytocin levels. Efforts to see if administering oxytocin as a pill or nasal spray could reduce anxiety and depression have yielded disappointing results so far. That is partially due to the fact that this hormone has trouble crossing the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier functions as a protective filter for the brain by blocking the entry of undesirable molecules from the bloodstream, but it can also block the entry of large drug molecules like oxytocin.

    Ways to increase oxytocin levels:

    • Exercise: A promising way to naturally increase oxytocin levels. For instance, yoga, high-intensity martial arts training can elevate oxytocin levels in the saliva of the participants.
    • Music: Particularly when people sing in a group, which adds the element of bonding, music also appears to be able to raise oxytocin levels.
    • Even the act of touching, for instance a cuddle or a hug can increase oxytocin release.
    • Sharing your feelings or telling someone how much you care
    • Spend time with friends
    • Acts of kindness
    • Higher levels of this hormone and a greater sense of well-being are produced when you get or give a massage.

    Numerous studies have shown that oxytocin, which is frequently linked to affection, attachment and bonding can lessen stress and anxiety. It has the ability to control our emotional responses and promotes social behaviour, such as trust, empathy, fondness which are all important for constructive communication and overall well being of individuals.

    Also check - Invention Of Semiconductor And Its Impact On Our Life

    • Behavioural sciences
    • Psychological concepts
    • Psychology
    • Neuroscience
    • Brain
    • Social behavior
    • Primate behavior
    • Hypothalamus
    • Social behavior
    • Posterior pituitary

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