Oxytocin is a natural hormone that is best known for controlling contractions during labour. Recently, scientists have discovered that it has other significant roles such as in the human urge to connect with others. The hormone can change the way humans view and interact with each other by increasing trust for example. If we did not have oxytocin then we would be less inclined to be sociable with each other and probably not fall in love and pair up with a long-term partner. Oxytocin is released in very high quantities by mothers who are breastfeeding and also when we orgasm. During clinical studies oxytocin sprays have been tested on people. It was discovered that it reduced anxiety and shyness in some and increased generosity too. The studies also indicate that a deficiency in the hormone may be responsible in some way for some serious social dysfunctions such as autism and depression.
Other studies of oxytocin have resulted in some interesting findings. During a trial in 2006 with fifteen autistic adults, a synthetic oxytocin was administered intravenously to some of the patients and some were given a placebo. The patients who were given the oxytocin were much more able to distinguish emotions in a tone of voice. For nearly two weeks after the trial the improvements in social awareness endured with these patients. The use of oxytocin nasal sprays also resulted in the discovery that autistic patients could interpret peoples’ facial expressions more easily. A request was subsequently submitted to patent the use of oxytocin to treat autism spectrum disorders.
Other trials have taken place including those with healthy volunteers without any known disorders. It was discovered that the oxytocin sprays could reduce anxiety and shyness even when administered in small doses. During one of the studies oxytocin made people feel more trusting with their money and more generous.
Currently, a commercial oxytocin, administered intravenously, called Pitocin is available to women to induce labour and the hormone is also available on the internet. New mothers sometimes use it to trigger the release of their breast milk. On some websites commercial oxytocin is on sale and purports to help cure shyness and increase trust in the users. These products are not classified as drugs so there is no definite evidence that they work. Lots of hormones work together in the nervous system to help with our social skills and awareness, oxytocin does not work alone so cannot be a miracle cure for dysfunctions such as shyness or autism. But it certainly has been proven to be very effective in some trials.
Natural ways to release oxytocin are carrying out activities such as cuddling your loved ones, stroking your pet, massage and relaxing with your friends. We should probably try and do these things more regularly to release our oxytocin and feel its effects rather than encouraging everyone to run out and stock up on oxytocin perfume!
By Eirian Hallinan