Why and how do we form bonds and social connections? What makes people fall in love, and what happens during sex (biochemically, that is)? Why are some people more generous than others? Recent developments in the fields of medicine and neuroscience have recently begun to shed light on these questions, and emerging research reveals that a nine amino acid peptide known as oxytocin plays a central role in human social behaviors and interactions such as bonding, attachment, sexual activity, emotion recognition, and trust-building. Popularly dubbed “the bonding hormone,” “the cuddle hormone,” and even “the love hormone,” oxytocin is indeed essential to human connections; however, these catchphrases may be somewhat narrow in light of oxytocin’s wide range of physiological and behavioral functions, not to mention its huge therapeutic potential for treating a variety of disorders, and its role in enhancing mood, well-being, and even sexual function.
Oxytocin is a Hormone and a Neurotransmitter
In 1906, it was found that extracts from a human posterior pituitary gland contracted the uterus of a pregnant cat and the isolated biochemical responsible for this action was named oxytocin, from the Greek words meaning “swift birth.” Oxytocin is best known for its roles in reproduction: it is released into the circulatory system where it acts as a hormone mediating contractions of the uterus during childbirth as well as milk production during breastfeeding. However, besides these hormonal effects, oxytocin is also released directly into the brain under certain stimuli such as touch, where it functions as a neurotransmitter, modulating a diverse set of behaviors and interactions in animals and humans.
Oxytocin Promotes Parental Ties and Pair Bonding
Early studies on the effects of oxytocin were performed in animal models of social behavior and focused on parental bonding to offspring and pair bonding between partners. Experimentally administered oxytocin was shown to initiate maternal care behavior in non-reproducing female animals such as sheep,2 and rats.3 In addition, the fascinating effects of oxytocin on pair bonding were studied extensively in the prairie vole, a sociable rodent found in Europe and Asia that is among the three percent of mammalian species that form monogamous partnerships. After mating (which can last up to 24 hours!), these animals bond permanently, sharing their lives and shunning other potential mates. The biochemical mechanism responsible for the formation of these loyal unions was determined to be the release of two posterior pituitary hormones, including oxytocin, into the brain during mating;4 experimentally blocking the action of oxytocin prevents the formation of the enduring relationships, even after extended mating sessions4 5 ─ findings that have expanded our understanding of the how and why of pair bonding. Oxytocin operates similarly in humans, where it also promotes parent-offspring ties. And regarding pair bonding, whether or not we are in the elite three percent of species forming unconditional monogamous relationships remains to be established. But it has been shown that plasma oxytocin levels are higher in people who are falling in love. (6) And, like prairie voles, sexual activity results in increased plasma oxytocin levels in both men and women.7 8. (See “Oxytocin as a Sexual Enhancer” below.)
Pro-social Effects of Oxytocin in Humans
Recent studies in humans building on the animal experiments show that oxytocin is important in stimulating a wide range of social skills and interactions including eye contact, empathy, face and emotion recognition, trust, and generosity.9 10 Much of this work has been performed using intranasal (i.e., nasal spray) delivery of oxytocin, which has been shown to raise oxytocin concentrations in the cerebral-spinal fluid.11 One of the first studies on human social behavior examined the effect of intranasal oxytocin in people performing the “trust game,” a tool for the study of trust in a controlled laboratory setting in which an “investor” and “trustee” must make decisions on the size of money transfers between them. Investors receiving oxytocin nasal spray transferred significantly more money than investors given a placebo, indicating that the neuropeptide is essential in establishing trust,12 which is a necessary element of relationship-building and social bonding. Another of several subsequent trust studies established baseline plasma oxytocin level as a biomarker of both trust and trustworthiness.13 Oxytocin has also been found to foster generosity, as demonstrated in a study in which participants infused with oxytocin or placebo engaged in a decision-making task on how to split a sum of money with a stranger. Subjects receiving oxytocin were 80 percent more generous than those given a placebo!14 Further trials have shown that experimental oxytocin administration promotes eye contact by increasing gaze to the eye region of the face,15 and enhances the ability to identify and interpret emotions in studies where subjects view images of just the eye region of the face.16 Eye contact and emotion recognition are important elements of interpersonal communication and social approach behavior in humans, and both are facilitated by oxytocin.
While all of these oxytocin-mediated behaviors are important to pair bonding and parental attachment, they also play a larger and more general role in human social interactions outside the realm of partnerships and families. This points to potential pro-social applications of supplemental oxytocin, not only in forging closer relationships with partners, but also in building deeper ties with friends, associates and colleagues, and even enabling otherwise withdrawn or shy people to become more outgoing and gregarious. According to Dr. Thierry Hertoghe, a leading anti-aging physician practicing in Brussels who has experimented with supplemental oxytocin, “After oxytocin I was enjoying chatting with people. So it seemed like oxytocin made me more sociable and warm-hearted. It made me much more attached [to his wife] in a romantic way; the attachment was a deep warm-hearted feeling. In my experience, in most of my patients and myself using it, it works to increase all relationships that you have.”
Benefits for Anxiety and Stress Relief and Mood Enhancement
Interestingly, and not unexpectedly, oxytocin also plays a major role in social bonding between animals and humans. Human-animal interactions including pet ownership and animal-assisted therapy have positive effects including mood relief, anxiety reduction, improvements in mental and physical health (especially cardiovascular diseases), and reduction of stress-related parameters (i.e., lowering of the stress hormone cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure), and these effects appear to be activated by the oxytocin system.9
Indeed, human studies have confirmed the cortisol-lowering and stress-reducing actions of experimentally administered intravenous and intranasal oxytocin17 18 as well as its anxiety-relieving effects.19 20 In an animal study of note, a single rat injected with oxytocin had a calming effect on a whole cage of unmedicated stressed rats!21 Oxytocin’s mood enhancing actions also extend to depression relief.9
Applications for the Treatment of Social Disorders and More
Oxytocin is involved in normal social behaviors and may have therapeutic potential in treating social disorders where its activity is impaired, such as phobia,22 autism,10 23 and schizophrenia.24 For example, autism is a developmental disorder characterized by abnormal communication and repetitive behaviors, and significantly lower blood levels of oxytocin have been measured in autistic children.25 Studies show that intravenous oxytocin administration reduced repetitive behaviors,26 and oxytocin nasal spray improved emotion recognition23 in people diagnosed with autism. Oxytocin’s beneficial applications are even more far-reaching, including reducing pain and inflammation and aiding injury and wound healing.1 9 And many readers will be interested in discovering another more popular potential use, as described below.
Last but not Least: Oxytocin as a Sexual Enhancer
We saw earlier that oxytocin levels are higher in new lovers and that plasma oxytocin levels increase at sexual climax in men and women. And for those who wish to improve their love life, supplemental oxytocin is reported to enhance libido, arousal and sexual climax in both males and females. A study that spurred the possibility that oxytocin could be a potential treatment for male impotence found that, when injected into the brain, it induced spontaneous penile erections in rats.27 Imagine an agent that not only forges a deeper connection to one’s partner, but also improves sexual performance! This would make oxytocin a superior sexual enhancer to drugs like Viagra or Cialis, which only aid the physical aspect of romantic encounters.
As we have just seen, research has unveiled the biological underpinnings of human social behaviors, which can be traced to a nine amino acid peptide called oxytocin, and its potential therapeutic uses are immense – from anxiety and stress relief, sexual enhancement, and promotion of closer ties and relationships, to the treatment of social disorders and more. The “cuddle hormone” is much more than its simplified namesake, and it’s certain that continuing research will uncover even more potential uses for this intriguing neuropeptide.
Place your order today!
Defy Medical offers a source for Oxytocin which we have used and found to be reliable, fast, and pure. Oxytocin is available for personal use as a nasal spray (which is the form used in many of the clinical studies). Contact Defy Medical to place your order or learn more about Oxytocin. Email: email@example.com Phone: 813-445-7342