Doesn’t he just want to cuddle? Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that! The messenger substance oxytocin can do a lot more than was previously thought to be possible. Much research is currently releasing the hormone from its cuddly image and shows that we could even use it to treat anxiety disorders in the future.
Whether it is the loyalty, cuddle, bond or trust hormone – oxytocin has many names. And it fulfills at least as many functions in our body: when released in the brain, it triggers labor pains, starts the flow of breast milk, has a positive influence on our social behavior, reduces anxiety, inhibits aggression and arouses a feeling of connectedness.Article content at a glance:
Effects of oxytocin on pregnancy, childbirth and the psyche
The hormone oxytocin is an endogenous messenger substance that is formed in the control center of our body – the brain. More precisely in the hypothalamus. The pituitary gland, in other words the pituitary gland, releases it and distributes the substance via our bloodstream to where it is needed – for example to the uterus or the female breast. Oxytocin is increasingly formed during pregnancy, which is why the hormone has long been known in gynecology. It plays an important role in childbirth and breastfeeding because it stimulates the uterus to contract and causes the breast to empty the milk. By the way, it owes its ancient Greek name to this mode of action, which means “quick birth”.
The nickname “cuddle hormone” is also not a coincidence: The hormone supports contact with other people. Strangers become families. “Oxytocin allows closeness and in this way encourages mothers to develop a bond with their babies. This is why the oxytocin level in women is particularly high during puerperium,” explains Herpertz.
“Oxytocin is an extremely interesting substance,” says Prof. Dr. Sabine Christiane Herpertz, Medical Director of the Clinic for General Psychiatry at Heidelberg University Hospital. Together with her team, she is currently researching how oxytocin could be used in social anxiety, in pain research and as a therapy for the interaction of mentally ill parents with their children. Because we already know that oxytocin is not only responsible for making us feel more comfortable after being caressed: The “good luck messenger”, as the key to our emotional world, is very likely to solve completely different problems.
Not just a woman’s business: Oxytocin is also important for men
Of course, all of this suggests that oxytocin is a typical female hormone. But this is not the case: although women produce more oxytocin than men, the messenger substance is also important for men and influences their social behavior. “If fathers play with their children, for example, this leads to an increased release of oxytocin in both the man and the child, which strengthens their bond,” says Herpertz.
An experiment conducted by psychologist Prof. Dr. med. Was able to show that the hormone has a special effect on both sexes. Beate Ditzen prove: She asked couples to argue about a typical conflict issue. Before the discussion, they were given either a placebo or oxytocin as a nasal spray. The result: The couples who had received oxytocin discussed more constructively and they had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. So could oxytocin be the solution to couple problems when the tatters are otherwise constantly flying? “Not yet,” said the expert. “Because research is only just on the way here. In the future, oxytocin could definitely be used as a supplementary additive in couples therapy.”
Research breakthrough: Oxytocin is helpful in mental illness
The situation is very similar with the use of oxytocin in connection with mental illnesses: it is not yet used to relieve symptoms, but it is quite conceivable in the future. Because research has already come to groundbreaking findings in this area: studies have shown that oxytocin can increase social skills and confidence and reduce stress.
The reason: Oxytocin changes the reaction of the almond kernel complex (amygdala), which is responsible for emotions such as anger or fear, and this amazingly in the direction in which it is beneficial for the individual. “It can increase or decrease awareness of certain stimuli,” explains Herpertz. In autistic people, for example, it has been found that social stimuli become more interesting for them when they are administered oxytocin and that the reaction of the amygdala increases. In contrast, in people with social anxiety, the reaction of the amygdala decreased when confronted with faces – their behavior suggested less anxiety. Borderline patients seemed to experience angry faces less threateningly.
Oxytocin in psychotherapy – still a long way off
“So far, however, the proven effects are not so great that a specific treatment can be derived from them,” said the clinic director. “To do this, we first have to find out what doses are required and how best to administer them.” Unfortunately, this is precisely what is not that easy, because the dosage depends on gender, context and individual personality traits. Research on this is already in full swing worldwide. “Only when we are clear about all the factors can a doctor prescribe oxytocin from this.”
Such a treatment with oxytocin could then be carried out in connection with psychotherapy in the future and, for example, be used to enable the establishment of a therapeutic relationship between the person concerned and the practitioner in the initial phase. The expert also sees real help for traumatized mothers who have difficulties establishing a bond with their baby: “It was found that they release less oxytocin when they interact with their child. Administration of the substance could compensate for the hormone deficiency. “
Oxytocin as a nasal spray or perfume – a good idea?
When the researchers experiment with oxytocin, they give it to their test subjects as a nasal spray. “Here we now know that the substance actually reaches the brain,” says Herpertz. It takes around 45 minutes for the desired effect to occur, the peak of the effect lasts for about an hour and a half. During this time, the experts try to carry out the most important investigations.
Even for the average consumer, liquid trust has already crept into the market under terms such as “Liquid Trust”. A puff of nasal spray here, a drop of perfume there – and you’re ready to go on your first date relaxed or confidently through the job interview. That might be nice, but at the moment such effects are still promised too much: “There is not enough data to manufacture a product at this point in time that could fulfill such hopes,” explains the oxytocin researcher.
Possible side effects of oxytocin
The expert advises against permanently using over-the-counter oxytocin preparations: “Even if no major side effects are known, long-term use could lead to a disruption of the endocrine system”. At the current state of research, the experts do not know what effects chronic consumption of oxytocin will have. During pregnancy, using it on your own is absolutely unsuitable. As a drug, the active ingredient is only administered here under professional supervision to induce or support labor.
A study by the Dutch psychologist Carsten de Dreu showed that oxytocin can not only cuddle, but also develop completely different sides. While oxytocin normally reduces aggressiveness, according to his experiments it increased towards members who did not belong to the social group: the test subjects preferred their own team and their defensive attitude against strangers increased.
What conclusion does this allow about the hormone? Experts are discussing this controversially: preferring one’s own group does not necessarily have to be seen as aggression, but rather is more comparable to the behavior of a mother that protects its young.
Increase oxytocin: trigger cuddle hormone in women and men
So science still needs a while to completely crack the oxytocin code. But until then everyone can make sure that the hormones just fly – and that in a completely natural way with small things in interpersonal interaction!
Six natural ways of secreting oxytocin:
Stroke: Run your partner’s hair or gently stroke their cheek – these are touches that promote the release of oxytocin and strengthen your relationship as a partner. So treat yourself to a few pats more often. As with caressing, massaging also promotes the release of oxytocin.
Sex: During sexual intercourse – and especially after orgasm – oxytocin is released in both men and women. This leads to the fact that we feel particularly satisfied and connected to one another afterwards.
Embrace: A hug is good for you – regardless of whether it comes from your partner, family member, friend or another person. This form of body contact expresses support, which the brain honors with an increase in oxytocin to reduce our fear or anger.
Breastfeeding: When breastfeeding, freshly baked mums release a lot of oxytocin, which strengthens the mother-child bond. Direct physical contact between mother and baby, but also between father and baby, can cause oxytocin to be released.
Look in the eyes: Even eye contact releases oxytocin, which is why the famous “dog look” is so effective.
Hold hands: Holding the other’s hand not only strengthens the bond with the partner in a love relationship. Other relationships of trust can also be strengthened by shaking hands.
Oxytocin is an endogenous messenger substance that is formed in the brain. The hormone plays a major role in pregnancy and childbirth because it stimulates the uterus to contract and ensures that breast milk flows when breastfeeding. It is nicknamed “the cuddle hormone” because the hormone also functions as a social binding agent. It strengthens trust and in this way promotes the mother-child bond. Because oxytocin can influence human social behavior, it may be used in the future to alleviate symptoms of mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders or autism. However, more research is needed here.
Source: Lifeline | Das Gesundheitsportal by www.lifeline.de.
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