Our team is very interested in hormones and how it they affect the human body, mind and spirit. We have written about the hormone Vitamin D, and today we are exploring oxytocin because a physician friend shared that she was investing in research into the effects of oxytocin on autism.
Oxytocin is a neuropeptide which acts both as a hormone and as a brain neurotransmitter[i].
What if this hormone could really influence social behavior in individuals?
What if oxytocin could help those with social phobias? What could the implications be for people with depression and social withdrawal?
We looked the current literature and we wanted to share it with you.
One summary article stated that this is a bliss hormone that can heal the body.[ii] That oxytocin plays an important part in birth, lactation and bonding. During childbirth oxytocin stimulates uterine contractions and enhances the relationship between mother and child.And it plays a role in sexual arousal.
It is nature’s way or sealant for bonding with others enhancing a sense of trust, optimism, mastery and self-esteem.
During love and intercourse, oxytocin surges facilitating the emotions of love and trust strengthening a bond in romance.
The article goes on to state how oxytocin dips during PTSD--post traumatic stress disorder-- when people experience fear and anxiety. Oxytocin is also low when there is childhood trauma and can influence relationships and physical health. In certain cases of ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, a receptor site for oxytocin is genetically unavailable and sometimes the production of the hormone is extremely low as well. The article speaks also about digestion and gut function and states that oxytocin levels can influence the brain to calm gastrointestinal inflammation reducing food sensitivities, autoimmune disorders and systemic infections.
Dr. Joseph Mercola[iii] summarizes that oxytocin can counteract stress by decreasing the level of cortisol and lowers blood pressure, too. He recaps that oxytocin plays a role in why pet owners heal faster than non-pet owners, why couples live longer than singles and why being a part of groups work for people with addiction and disease. The hormone has also been able to reduce addiction cravings for alcohol, drugs and sugar. Mercola specifies that oxytocin can benefit the heart and heal it from damage by reducing cell death and inflammation.
It is suggested that a 20 second hug along with ten minutes of hand-holding reduces the harmful physical effects of stress on the body.
This can be motivation enough to try and does not cost anything!
Over the past decade there have been a wide variety of studies done with regard to autism and oxytocin treatment, etc., especially to treat reciprocity in social behavior.
A current review article[iv], suggests that “acute oxytocin administration improves numerous markers critical to the social circuitry underlying social deficits in autism and that oxytocin might optimize circuits, enhance reward, motivation and learning to improve therapeutic outcomes.”
And concludes that there are a range of treatment strategies including greater focus on oxytocin use that have a neurobiological root in social behavior. Additional and more sophisticated trials are necessary to be done using these approaches placing oxytocin in the autism context.
One article about working together, [v] showed that participants in groups were able to work more collaboratively in decision making when oxytocin was administered. Using oxytocin, the more competent member of a grouping of two was less likely to change their mind during a disagreement and the less competent member showed a greater conformity level when paired with a more reliable partner, suggesting that there can be an improved balance of influence and competence leading to better collaboration within partnerships.
Clearly more research is necessary and underway.
And clearly too, it does not cost money to love, to hug and be tactile, to relax and to bond.
The evidence is in-- that the ways of bonding release oxytocin, and that this release leads to better health.
We can choose. We can choose to love, to hug, to win and to be healthy!