The origin of…Oxytocin

“That’s what falling in love really amounted to, your brain on drugs. Adrenaline and dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. Chemical insanity, celebrated by poets.” Tess Gerritsen

Post 75 Oxytocin

Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone or trust hormone, is a mammalian neurohypophysial hormone made in the hypothalamus and is transported to, and secreted by, the pituitary gland. It also acts as a neurotransmitter.
When we hug or kiss a loved one, when we have sex and during birth and breastfeeding, its levels go up. During labor the release of the hormone makes the muscles of the uterus contract and is thus a facilitator for childbirth. It also helps new mothers to bond with and breastfeed their new babies. This is why oxytocin has been used to induce labor, which is relatively safe at recommended doses but there have been reports of increased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, pelvic hematoma, and nausea and vomiting, among others.

So, oxytocin has an affect on prosocial behaviors like trust and attachment and it is considered to have anti-anxiety effects in the brain. But research conducted in 2013 published in Nature Neuroscience showed that it could be involved in increasing fear in some circumstances. The research suggested that oxytocin could make us not only remember stressful situations experienced in the past, but that it could produce fear and anxiety in the future by strengthening negative social memories and triggering the molecule ERK (extracellular signal regulated kinases). ERK causes fear by stimulating by stimulating fear pathways in the brain, which go through the lateral septum, the part where emotional and stress responses occur. Not quite what you would expect from a hormone that has such a strong link with love and social bonding.

Another more recent study published in Nature Communications in June 2014 shows oxytocin is connected to aging and disease and presents it as treatment target for age-related muscle wasting. It is the first anti-aging molecule identified approved by the Food and Drug Administration for clinical use in humans. The downside though is that so far the molecules that have been discovered to boost tissue regeneration are also associated with cancer. The aim is to find a molecule that can rejuvenate old muscle and other tissue sustainably for a longer period of time without increasing the risk of cancer. Oxytocin might be the answer because it is a hormone that reaches every organ and is not known to affect the immune system.

Interesting reading material:

a pituitary octapeptide hormone C43H66N12O12S2 that stimulates especially the contraction of uterine muscle and the secretion of milk (source: Merriam Webster).

The word oxytocin comes from the Greek words ὀξύς, (oksys), swift, and τόκος, (tokos), birth.

Oxytocin in other languages:
Dutch: de oxytocine
Spanish: la oxitocina
Italian: l´ossitocina (f)


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