Everything that happens in this world has a reason behind it. The quest of finding unknown facts is what keeps us ‘the humans’ going. Scientists all around the world are spending days and nights searching for unheard answers, be it how our brain recognizes an image or how someone falls in love. Science is literally everywhere. Have you ever wondered why a small baby is mostly attached to his mother or why suddenly your heart starts to beat faster in situations of stress and fear? Well, Science has answers for this too.
Human body is like a crossword puzzle. In order to understand or solve it, one should first get all the pieces together. ‘Hormones’ can be seen as one such important piece without which our puzzle can never be solved. The Human body secretes and circulates around 50 hormones, which regulate our body functions. In this post series, I will be talking about three such hormones, Oxytocin – the love hormone, Adrenaline – the stress hormone and Dopamine – the reward. Let us start our discussion with Oxytocin.
Oxytocin was discovered by Henry Dale in 1906. It is a human peptide hormone, produced in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary. It plays a role in social bonding, sexual reproduction and child bonding during and after the childbirth.
Oxytocin as a nature’s chief tool for creating a mother.
When a woman is pregnant, the levels of estrogen (“female hormone”) in her body increases. These increased levels of estrogen multiply the number of oxytocin receptors in the expecting mother’s brain and makes her highly responsive to the presence of oxytocin. This also promotes maternal behaviors in the new mother. Oxytocin’s first important surge is during labor. The passage through the birth canal further heightens oxytocin levels in both mother and baby.
High oxytocin causes a mother to become familiar with the unique odor of her newborn infant, and once attracted to it, to prefer her own baby’s odor above all others’. Baby is similarly imprinted on mother, deriving feelings of calmness and pain reduction along with mother. The baby soon starts to prefer the odor of his mother’s breast. During nursing, oxytocin influences maternal behaviour and stimulates milk let down which helps to make the first attempts at breastfeeding feel natural.
A study reported in the Nov. 22, 2005, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Vol. 102, No. 47, pages 16,907-16,908). There, University of Wisconsin-Madison doctoral student Alison Wismer Fries and colleagues compared urine levels of oxytocin and vasopressin, in two sets of children-one raised from birth with their biological parents and one adopted after living in orphanages in Russia and Romania-following contact with their mothers. They found that the levels of oxytocin rose in the biological children but remained the same in the adopted children. These findings suggest there may be biological underpinnings for the observation that some adopted children, in particular those from deprived circumstances, have difficulty forming secure relationships, despite living in loving homes.
Oxytocin as a promoter of trust and generosity.
The trust that we share with our parents can be seen as an effect of oxytocin release in our body. As we saw, when a child takes birth he bonds with his mother first but, as he grows he starts to develop the same feelings for his father too. Oxytocin levels in men are triggered by stimulatory parenting: tossing the baby in the air, pulling the little one up to sit, or encouraging exploration and laughter and same goes for the baby.
A study on new field of neuroeconomics, which aims to investigate the brain mechanisms that underlie economic behaviour and decision-making shows that, oxytocin has recently taken its center stage.
A team of behavioral economist Michael Kosfeld, PhD, of the University of Zurich, Zak and his colleagues found a stronger relationship between oxytocin and generosity. They conducted a test in which one half of the participants inhaled an oxytocin spray and the other half a placebo. They were then asked to decide how to split a sum of money with a stranger. Those who received the hormone offered the stranger 80 percent more money than those receiving the placebo. Although, this does not prove anything significant, but certainly shows that oxytocin might be a reason behind it.
Oxytocin at times of social stress.
Recent studies have shown that oxytocin is also part of a response to social separation and related stress. Women who reported more gaps in their social relationships and less positive relationships with their primary partners had higher levels of oxytocin and the stress hormone cortisol than those reporting better relationships.
In a study done by psychiatrist Eric Hollander, MD, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and colleagues found that adults diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s disorder who received oxytocin injections showed an improved ability to identify emotional content on a speech comprehension task, while those on a placebo did not. The authors write,”These findings suggest that oxytocin might facilitate social information processing in those with autism, and provide preliminary support for the use of oxytocin in the treatment of autism.”
I would like to conclude by saying that even though the role of oxytocin in our body is not completely known, it is still one of the important hormones secreted by our body. Apart from the above mentioned functions, it also promotes pair bonding, triggers protective instincts and fear responses, crystallizes emotional memories, eases stress, and promotes sleep. It is also found that increased levels of oxytocin increases sexual desire in women. This is one of the reasons why it is titled as ‘ The love hormone’. A social psychologist and oxytocin researcher Shelley E. Taylor, PhD, director of the University of California, Los Angeles Social Neuroscience Lab, says “Oxytocin is developing a reputation of being the sort of thing you’d want to dump in someone’s coffee in the morning to make them soft and nice and fuzzy and good to you. That’s just not the case. Oxytocin is much more complex than that.” This clears the fact, that there is much more to Oxytocin than what we know. Scientists and researches are looking for the unknown answers and might be possible that we get to hear some new discoveries soon.
Have a look at the mentioned references for any further details.
- Image reference : https://steptohealth.com/the-hormone-oxytocin/