Oxytocin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter that is involved in childbirth and breast-feeding. It is also associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building.
It is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone,” because levels of oxytocin increase during hugging and orgasm. It may also have benefits as a treatment for a number of conditions, including depression, anxiety, and intestinal problems.
Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain. Females usually have
Fast facts on oxytocin
Here are some key points about oxytocin. More detail is in the main article.
- Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and released during sex, childbirth, and lactation to aid reproductive functions.
- It has physical and psychological effects, including influencing social behavior and emotion.
- Oxytocin is prescribed as a drug for obstetric and gynecological reasons and can help in childbirth.
- Research shows that it may benefit people with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), anxiety, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter and a hormone that is
During labor, oxytocin increases uterine motility, causing contractions in the muscles of the uterus, or womb. As the cervix and vagina start to widen for labor, oxytocin is released. This widening increases as further contractions occur.
Oxytocin also has social functions. It
Oxytocin as a drug
Oxytocin is used as a prescription drug under the brand name Pitocin. Under medical supervision, an oxytocin injection is sometimes used to start birth contractions or strengthen them during labor, and it helps reduce bleeding after delivery. Side effects include a rapid heartbeat and unusual bleeding.
If too much oxytocin is delivered too rapidly, it can lead to a rupture of the uterus.
Oxytocin can also be given to make the uterus contract and control bleeding after a delivery or a termination.
In 2012, researchers
Sexual activity has been found to stimulate the release of oxytocin, and it appears to have a role in erection and orgasm. The reason for this is not fully understood, but, in women, it may be that the increased uterine motility may help sperm to reach their destination. Some have proposed a correlation between the concentration of oxytocin and the intensity of orgasm.
When oxytocin enters the bloodstream, it affects the uterus and lactation, but when it is released into certain parts of the brain, it can impact emotional, cognitive, and social behaviors.
One review of research into oxytocin states that the hormone’s impact on “pro-social behaviors” and emotional responses contributes to relaxation, trust, and psychological stability.
The hormone has been
Is it that simple?
In 2006, investigators
Animal studies have found high levels of both stress and oxytocin in voles that were separated from other voles. However, when the voles were given doses of oxytocin, their levels of anxiety, cardiac stress, and depression fell, suggesting that stress increases internal production of the hormone, while externally supplied doses can help reduce stress.
Clearly, the action of oxytocin is not straightforward.
A review published in 2013
Nevertheless, oxytocin does appear to be associated with social behavior, including maternal care, bonding between couples, sexual behavior, social memory, and trust.
Delivering oxytocin through a nasal spray has allowed researchers to observe its effects on behavior.
In 2011, research published in Psychopharmacology
In 2013, a study published in PNAS suggested that oxytocin may help keep men faithful to their partners, by activating the reward centers in the brain.
In 2014, researchers published findings in the journal Emotion
Scientists have proposed that it might help improve interpersonal and individual wellbeing, and that it could have applications for people with some neuropsychiatric disorders.
They believe it could help people who avoid social interaction, and those who experience persistent fear and an inability to trust others.
Children with autism could benefit from oxytocin, say some researchers. In 2013, a small study suggested that oxytocin levels in the brain affected how 17 children perceived a series of social and non-social images.
Oxytocin may also play a role in anger management. Research has indicated that certain polymorphisms of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene are associated with an increased tendency to react angrily to situations.
In particular, differences in OXTR gene expression
Oxytocin appears to increase the release of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) in cells lining the intestine. This helps to encourage the repair of intestinal injury and to protect against such injury.
If this is confirmed, oxytocin
The role of oxytocin is complex and not easy to pin down.
While it appears to enhance bonding and the forming of communities, it may also encourage the formation of “in-groups” and “out-groups,” giving rise to envy, prejudice, and possibly aggression.
Participants in a 2014 study were more likely to lie for the benefit of others in the same group after receiving oxytocin. The findings, said researchers, could help with “providing insight into when and why collaboration turns into corruption.”
More investigation is needed to understand the complexity of oxytocin and what it does.