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Oxytocin

"The Cuddle & Love Hormone"


I've been interested in learning more about this hormone, which is attributed to dozens of touchy-feely goodness.  I'm curious if it's just exaggerated hype, or has actual biological basis. The following is what I've put together from newspaper and magazine articles on the subject.  The next step will be comparing it to medical literature.


Introduction

Oxytocin is a hormone that is released into the blood during many types of touching; especially breast-feeding, cuddling, hugging, kissing, childbirth & labor, orgasm, sex and snuggling. The physical effects of oxytocin include increased sensitivity of nerve endings, stimulated muscle contractions, increased heart rate plus an urge to touch and cuddle. The emotional feelings it produces are associated with affection, bonding, caring, love, peace, nurturing, security, attachment and even the afterglow of sex.

Bonding

The bonding that oxytocin promotes is said to be "designed to encourage people to stay together". The most extreme example is that it is supposed to encourage romantic partners to stay together and raise children. The oxytocin released during breast-feeding may contribute to the strong feeling of bonding between a mother and her child and encourages the mother to protect and raise her babies.

Men & Women

Both men and women feel the effects of oxytocin but to different degrees. Men's levels of oxytocin are said to rise 3-5 times during orgasm, and the women's levels rise even more dramatically plus continue to rise during subsequent orgasms. Women's brains also have more oxytocin neural receptors, and pregnancy may increase the number of receptors. The special connection women have with oxytocin may have wide-ranging influences. One article suggests that regret women often feel after casual sex may be tied to increased oxytocin levels but nobody to cuddle with. And another study implies women may have more addictive relationship patterns because they feel love and loss in relationships more intensely.

Labor & Childbirth

Oxytocin is sometimes administered to women in labor to help prepare the cervix for childbirth. In fact, women are sometimes encouraged to have sex to naturally increase the amount of oxytocin in their bodies and result in labor. The release of oxytocin chemicals into the body during breastfeeding causes one of the strong binding and nurturing ties between mothers and their babies. Women are actually encouraged to breastfeed before having sex, because releasing oxytocin during orgasm can cause a lactating mother to leak or spray milk. While many chemicals in the body decrease during postpartum depression, the levels oxytocin and prolactin actually increase. And on an ominous note, one study said injections of oxytocin given to cattle cause abortions, sterility and kidney damage.

Exercise

Interestingly, a recent article suggested different types of exercise such as walking, mountain biking and boating can help release oxytocin and other endorphins into the bloodstream.


Oxytocin News

Oxytocin is mentioned frequently in newspapers, magazines, journals and other articles to tout a variety of chemical effects on and during love, sex, pregnancy and childbirth. Sometimes the claims border on the extreme! Following is a collection of news reports mentioning oxytocin.


"Love is not all we need, but it's what counts most"

The Weekend Australian, Ruth Ostrow, 04/02/2005

Meanwhile, in Western medicine, prominent anthropologist at Rutgers University in New York, Helen Fisher, who wrote Anatomy of Love, talks of amphetamines and opiates being released through sex. She particularly refers to opiates such as the cuddle chemical oxytocin, which kick in to keep us in long-term pair-bonds after the first rush of love wears off. Many of the chemicals of love we release are euphorics and nature's painkillers, leading us to a deep sense of contentment and wellbeing which aids overall health.


"Can We Reduce Preterm Births?"

Red Nova, Matthews Mathai, 04/01/2005

"Beta mimetic drugs are perhaps the most commonly used tocolytic agents worldwide. Ethanol, magnesium sulphate, indomethacin, calcium channel blockers, nitric oxide donors and atobisan (an oxytocin antagonist) have also been used for inhibiting preterm labour. Overall, tocolytics prolong pregnancy3 with 40 per cent reduction (95% CI 5-62%) in risk of delivery within 7 days of tocolytic therapy. However, tocolytics are not associated with improved perinatal outcomes. Significant maternal side effects associated with tocolytic use include palpitations, nausea, tremor, hyperglycaemia and hypokalaemia leading to discontinuation of treatment."


"Early epidurals increase caesarean rate, meta-analysis shows"

BMJ, Michael C. Klein, 04/02/2005

"LETTER: The study reported by Mayor in her news item uses the term "neuraxial analgesia" and claims that early epidurals do not increase the rate of caesarean deliveries.1 2 This is confusing as the study was not of early epidural analgesia, and the oxytocin augmentation rate of 75% at first analgesia makes for lack of generalisability."


"Michel Odent birthing humanity"

Common Ground, April 2005

"The hormones released during labour are the same as those found in all of our sexual activities and are consistent within mammals, coming exclusively from the primitive part of the brain. In particular, endorphins are clearly linked to our capacity to transcend pain with the feeling of euphoria and pleasure, as well as oxytocin, the love hormone. When we feel inhibited, threatened, afraid, or when the neocortex is stimulated, an entirely different infrastructure is accessed. Adrenaline, commonly referred to as the fight or flight hormone, takes over. Any number of factors can interfere with the flow of the love hormones designed to encourage ease of birth and mother/infant bonding. Simply nudging the labouring woman’s thinking brain by asking unnecessary or untimely questions is considered risky stimulation to Odent. Harsh sounds and bright lights are others. Even creating an inhibition of shyness or embarrassment by being observed changes the chemistry. This is escalated manifold when you venture into epidural administration of chemical pain killers, monitoring, machines going bleep, and full anesthetic caesarean surgery surrounded by strangers in masks and uniforms. According to Odent, these disruptions – when performed unnecessarily – have far greater impact than merely the immediate discomfort of the baby or mother. Whatever is happening to the mother is also happening to the fetus. The complex design of how birth is supposed to unfold has many key functions for survival. The natural flow of endorphins and oxytocin experienced by the uninterrupted mother are fed to the baby as well. This stimulates the bonding process, releases the placenta and fosters the infant’s vigor for finding and latching to the nipple. The essential first impressions of the world the child is arriving into are also encoded in this process. Any disruption, Odent has documented, has lasting effects on the individual and society as a whole."


"Questioning an unfaithful spouse's big divorce haul"

Scripps Howard News Service, Bonnie Erbe, 03/28/2005

"Nature may be working against long-term relationships, too. DiscoveryHealth.com notes that science has discovered a hormone called oxytocin that prompts the emotional changeover from first passion (or limmerance) to the long-term emotional bonding achieved in successful marriages of lengthy duration. Does that mean chemistry also contributes to some people's inability to remain faithful? Who knows?"


"Breastfeeding and birth control"

Pregnancy And Baby, Anne Smith IBCLC, 03/24/2005

"Changes in the mother's body during lactation may include vaginal dryness due to low levels of estrogen. Intercourse may be more comfortable if a water-based lubricant such as K-Y jelly is used. The release of oxytocin during orgasm may cause the mother's milk to leak or spray and surprise both partners. Feeding the baby or expressing some milk before lovemaking by applying pressure as the milk lets down can help prevent this. Keep a towel handy to catch the leaks may be helpful."


"Love Lines"

Daily Observer, Gambia, Eric Orji, 03/20/2005

"4. She waits to have sex. Yes, the sexual revolution arrived long ago and few people expect a "pure white bride" nowadays. But sex is still a pretty big step for couples. Many women don't even realise just how much sex changes the dynamics of a relationship. When women have sex, they release a hormone called oxytocin (also referred to as "the cuddle hormone"), which some scientific researchers believe makes women feel extra warm and fuzzy for their sex partners. If women do the deed too soon, they might make too much of a relationship that barely ever existed outside of the bedroom. When you inflate the significance of a relationship, the man often bolts. Wait at least one month into the relationship before having sex with your new man."


"Nature Has Ways Of Making Us Better"

Telegraph, United Kingdom, Thea Jourdan, 03/21/2005

"There is increasing evidence to show that getting close to nature can make us feel less stressed and better about ourselves. A new study, from the University of Essex, shows that "green" exercise can boost mood, physical fitness and self-esteem.  Professor Jules Pretty, who led the research team at the department of biological science, measured the mood and self-esteem of 263 people who took part in 10 different "green" activities, such as walking, mountain biking and canal boating.  "We found that there was a significant improvement in self-esteem in nine out of 10 case studies," says Prof Pretty. "The majority of people also found that, after participating in the activity, their anxiety levels dropped. They felt less depressed and more upbeat." In biochemical terms, the participants experienced enhanced moods because hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins were circulating around their bodies. "Levels of these hormones went up, which activated the pleasure centre in the brain," explains Prof Pretty. "This lead to a deep feeling of wellbeing and relaxation."


"Anatomy of Give & Take"

Los Angeles Times, Robert Lee Hotz, 03/18/2005

In deconstructing the biology of trust, other researchers have determined that the brain appears to prize that bond between two people biochemically, secreting a powerful hormone to cement working relationships. The act of trust correlates with elevated levels of a brain hormone called oxytocin, the same chemical released during breast-feeding and uterine contractions, according to experiments done by researchers at Claremont Graduate University. "It literally feels good to cooperate," said Paul J. Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont. As the hormone level rose, people also were more likely to reciprocate trust. "The stronger the trust, the more the oxytocin went up, and the more trustworthy you were. "Interestingly, participants in this experiment were unable to articulate why they behaved the way they did," Zak said. "But nonetheless their brains guided them to behave in 'socially desirable' ways — that is, to be trustworthy."


"Maternal-Fetal Medicine Update"

Medical Post, Volume 41 Issue 11, Patricia Nicholson, 03/15/2005

"While 81% of women who entered spontaneous labour without the need for oxytocin administration achieved vaginal birth after caesarian (VBAC), only 67% of induced labours and 74% of oxytocin-augmented patients achieved VBAC. Cervical dilatation of 4 cm or more at the time of admission and fetal size of less than 4 kg were both associated with a greater likelihood of successful VBAC."


12 Old Wives' Tales About Pregnancy

iVillage, 02/22/2005

"7. The great sex myth Interestingly, this may be one of the few myths with a grain of truth in it. Love-making can stimulate your body to produce the hormone oxytocin, which can help your cervix ripen in readiness for labour. Your partner's semen also contains hormones called prostaglandins, which can cause contractions."


"The feeling of love strongly depends on aromas and hormones"

Pravda.ru, 03/09/2005

"Biologically active substances, such as amphetamines, endorphins and oxytocins are in charge of human feelings. When two people are in love, their inner state can be compared to narcotic intoxication. Oxytocin increases the sensitivity of nerve endings and stimulates muscle contractions. It is oxytocin that makes two people go to bed and experience the ultimate satisfaction of a human relationship. Amphetamines are referred to the group of stress substances in the human body. The body gradually develops adaptability to amphetamins: the need in them constantly grows to excite nerve centers and maintain the feeling of love. A human being cannot secret enough of them after three or four years of love. The modern statistics of divorces confirms the critical time period: the peak of divorces occurs on the fourth year of marriage (the research was conducted in 62 countries). Those people, who managed to overcome the critical point, must be thankful to other chemical substances - endorphins, which have a pacifying effect, like morphine. Spouses can enjoy very primitive feelings during this period, which is referred to as affection. This is a long-awaited calm after a storm of passion."


"Spring Clean Your Sex Life"

Daily Mirror, 03/08/2005

"Physical contact is key, and I don't just mean sex. When we touch, we release oxytocin - nature's bonding chemical. The more you touch, the closer you'll feel. Make sure you incorporate physical affection into your daily life, whether it's a cuddle on the sofa or a hug before you leave for work.


"Anesthetic for childbirth"

Linda Searing, Washington Post News Service, 03/01/2005

"THE QUESTION: To ease the pain of childbirth, many women receive an epidural, a local anesthetic that is injected into the space around the spinal cord. Does the timing of this injection - either early or later on in labor - affect whether the delivery will be vaginal or by Caesarean?

THIS STUDY randomly assigned 728 women, ready to deliver their first child with the help of an epidural, to be given the anesthetic either early in labor or later. Women in the early group were given a spinal injection of the painkiller fentanyl the first time they asked for pain relief and the epidural at the next request. The later group was given another painkiller, hydromorphone, intravenously and by injection into muscle once or twice, followed by an epidural when the cervix was dilated at least four centimeters or when the woman asked for pain relief for the third time. The rates of Caesarean delivery were similar: 18 percent for the early group and 21 percent for the later group. Labor was shorter for those given an early epidural. These women also reported less pain and less severe nausea and vomiting. WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Pregnant women. CAVEATS: Delivery methods and the use of oxytocin to stimulate labor may have differed among obstetricians and may have affected the results. The use of different pain relievers also may have affected the length of labor. BOTTOM LINE: Pregnant women should talk with their obstetrician about pain relief options before labor begins. FIND THIS STUDY: Feb. 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine; abstract available online at nejm.org."


"Scare in Britain, but risk is higher here"

Times News Network, 02/23/2005

"Apart from the pesticides that creep into the food chain, fruits like bananas and mangoes, are often exposed to calcium carbide to make them ripen fast. Even traces of this can cause miscarriages. Similarly, traces of oxytocin, injections of which are given to cattle, can cause abortions, sterility and kidney damage."


"Disadaptive Disorders in Women: Allopregnanolone, a Sensitive Steroid"

Red Nova, Gynecological Endocrinology, December 2004

"POSTPARTUM DISORDERS Pregnancy and postpartum are a critical period in a woman's life, often accompanied by psychiatric disorders, that are traditionally divided in three categories reflecting severity: postpartum 'blues', postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. It is estimated that, while more than 80% of women may experience some fluctuation in mood during the antepartum or the postpartum period, only 10-20% meet the criteria of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition for major depression and 0.1-0.2% show signs of psychosis. There is a lack of consensus about the etiology of postpartum affective disorders. The complex interplay of hormonal, obstetric and psychosocial factors probably gives rise to the different depressive states: pregnancy and childbirth have an enormous effect on a woman's body and a causal link between hormonal status and changes in mood has been suggested (39). Both pregnancy and the postpartum are characterized by dramatic endocrine changes. Moreover, the postpartum state is uniquely characterized by two notable sequential changes in the hormonal milieu, either of which could precipitate symptoms among women susceptible to developing affective disorders at this particular time: the abrupt changes in hormonal levels concomitant with parturition and the prolonged hypogonadal state that persists after parturition until the recovery of ovarian function (40). Hormonal changes include a sharp drop in plasma corticotropin-releasing hormone and cortisol levels, a decrease in pituitary opiates and an increase in prolactin and oxytocin. However, the most dramatic puerperal hormonal change is the marked decline in the gonadal steroids, progesterone and estradiol (41,42)."


"New book is sassy retort to 'He's Just Not That Into You'"

Lisa Frydman, Sun Times, 02/22/2005

"Q. What is "post-orgasmic regret?" A. Women are living in an age of regretful orgasms. It's a conflict for a lot of single women who act on their sexual desires -- one-night stands, etc. -- but afterward, their bodies object. When women hook up even casually, the hormone Oxytocin gets released, it is the so-called "cuddle hormone," which also makes us bond with babies when we breastfeed. It gets released during sex, and when it's casual, if there is nothing to cuddle with, sex becomes vacant and triggers regret. A lot of women who hook up feel crummy later on, experience a sense of sadness. Men don't have this. When guys hook up casually, a sense of entrapment may occur. If after sex a guy wants to cuddle with you, or even if he rolls over and starts snoring, he wants to be with you. But if after sex, he's up checking his Blackberry, or organizing the CDs, he's really saying, 'Get me the hell out of here.' This is a guy who will never give you the cuddle."


"Body Talk: Cheat Your Way to True Love"

RedNova, Daily Mirror, 02/17/2005

"STAGE FOUR: ATTACHMENT. When the initial surge of emotion begins to subside, the relationship moves towards a less frantic but much deeper bond that keeps couples together through life's challenges. Nature's goal is that we stick to our partner so that we have children and look after them with the support of two parents. Again, this is achieved through the release of key hormones, often triggered through repeated sex. First, we release endorphins - morphine-like substances that make us feel so good that we become dependent on our partner for the next fix. Another chemical that plays a crucial role in attachment is oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, which is released by both sexes during orgasm and prompts caring feelings for each other. The idea is that the more sex a couple has, the deeper their bond becomes. During sex the human brain produces another bonding hormone, vasopressin, whose main function is to help us to stay monogamous. Scientists in the US studying the monogamous prairie vole found males had receptors for vasopressin, but their non-monogamous cousins did not. This is an evolutionary mechanism to ensure that prairie voles stay with one sexual partner, protect their mate and offspring and share parenting tasks. It's the same in humans. LOVE TRICK: Have lots of sex to keep the bond with your partner strong and get him to stay faithful. Hugging will also help - studies show that this, too, can boost oxytocin levels."


"Love - It Does A Body Good"

Shari Rudavsky, Indy Star, 02/14/2005

"Let's talk about sex. And with love and marriage comes sex. Sexual activity -- assuming that both partners are healthy and willing -- carries health benefits of its own. Sex is exercise, just like any other physical activity. It gives the heart and muscles a good workout, although half an hour of moderate sexual activity only burns about 50 calories. Still, sex has other positive physical effects, Bogdewic notes. Sexual activity triggers the release of endorphins, natural opiates, and oxytocin, which is known as the cuddle hormone for its ability to induce a desire to, yes, snuggle. It increases blood flow to the brain and pulses fresh oxygen through the system. It may even galvanize the immune system, protecting against disease. Regular sex can also enhance one's mental health, said Erick Janssen, an associate scientist at the Kinsey Institute. While depression can interfere with the ability to engage in sex, sexual problems can lead to depression. Sex "is a high-demand activity," said Dr. Larry M. Davis of the Davis Clinic in Indianapolis who has worked as a sex therapist for 35 years. "I have never worked with anyone who was restored to good sexuality in their lives who has not felt more physical energy, less focused on their aches and pains and . . . grown happier, less anxious, and less despondent."


"At U.Va. A Reversal on Roles Biological Differences and Basic Gender Paths Linked, Professor Says"

Carlos Santos, Times-Dispatch, 02/13/2005

"On child care, for example, Rhoads said: "Women are the equal of men at lawyering and doctoring, but they are better than men at the nurturing of children. This superiority is, in large part, biologically based. . . . The hormone oxytocin promotes nurturing and bonding, and women have more neural receptors for oxytocin than men do and pregnancy gives them still more."


"The Power Of Kissing"

Rhonda Bodfield Bloom, Arizona Daily Star, 02/13/2005

"Scientists rearranged the Kinsey laboratory where they usually study individual sexual response and had a committed couple in their early 20s kiss for 15 to 30 minutes without a break to study their physiological changes. Although Janssen stresses that it isn't a study in the sense that you can extrapolate the couple's experience to the rest of the human race, researchers did measure physical changes in the man and the woman. Both showed an increase in heart rate and blood pressure and in genital blood flow. There are theories, Janssen said, that kissing may also trigger the release of oxytocin, a brain hormone that some scientists believe may be relevant to childbearing, lactating and, possibly, bonding."


"Healthy Love Life Leads to Well-Being"

FoxNews, Robin Wallace, 02/15/2005

"Your heart races, your palms sweat. Lovers often talk about the "chemistry" they feel with the object of their affection, but few know just how scientific that chemistry is. The physical responses that come with feelings of love and attraction are actually the effects of brain chemicals, known as neurotransmitters (search), triggering different reactions. On fire with lust? Blame eruptions of testosterone. Can't get your beloved out of your head? That's because your brain is swimming in a biochemical cocktail of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine — similar to the chemical combination found in the brains of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. People who report feeling "intoxicated" by another person know of what they speak. Dopamine is the brain's pleasure chemical, activated by alcohol and drug use. When love triggers its release, it provides a natural high.  Even that comfy and content feeling that comes with long-term love has a chemical source. Oxytocin, sometimes called the "cuddling hormone" because it is released by touch, is at work in this phase of a relationship, and is also responsible for child-parent bonding...From a fitness perspective, sex provides a modest cardiovascular workout, elevating pulse rates. An energetic session can burn about 200 calories, the same as a 15-minute jog. Additionally, sex prompts the body to release the hormone oxytocin and endorphins, natural painkillers that can ease all sorts of aches and pains. In women, sex causes the release of estrogen, which can ease PMS symptoms."


"Is It Love or In Love?"

Cynthia Billhartz, Post-Dispatch, 02/12/2005

"When we're in love, the brain releases dopamine, a chemical that researchers have likened to adrenaline, she explains. It causes short-term effects such as giddiness and staring. It also causes a heightened sense of energy, a tendency to overlook faults and an ability to focus all our attention on one person. (Or as a truck driver once put it to her: "The world had a new center, and that center was Alice.") Dopamine also works with other feel-good chemicals such as seratonin and norepinephrine, to generate emotional feelings.  According to Fisher, all dopamine-induced honeymoons eventually end. Studies have shown that the levels of the feel-good chemicals begin gradually returning to normal after six months. And the feelings of being "in love," says Fisher, typically last between 18 months and three years. (It can last longer, she noted, for couples living with obstacles, such as long distances between them or where one is married.)  But the end of dopamine isn't necessarily a bad thing, Fisher says, adding that being in love is like blind madness. "When you think of it, (being in love) is extremely metabolically expensive," she says. "You're up all night, you're obsessing over them, you're making love, you're forgetting to feed the dog; we'd all die of sexual exhaustion if it lasted forever." To her, mature love (or attachment as she calls it), is associated with the hormone oxytocin, and it comes with a sense of peace and security. "It's emotional, full of compromise, shared goals, shared interests and memories," she says. "It's like an oriental rug - it has a lot of parts." But its quiet arrival doesn't mean that the euphoria of being in love can't pop up regularly throughout a long relationship. "One way to keep it returning is to do novel things together, like hopping on a plane and going to Paris for the weekend or going nude swimming in the dark," she says."


"Can you die of a broken heart?"

Emma Crichton-Mille, You Magazine, 2005

"Drawing on twenty-five years of scientific research into the chemistry of love, Tallis identifies the chief culprit as the amphetamine-like compound phenyl ethylamine (PEA). This substance is one of the cocktail of chemicals released when you meet someone you are attracted to. Usually accompanied by the release of the fight and flight hormones, adrenaline and nor adrenaline, which sharpen the senses, no wonder you are in a tail spin of energy and exhilaration. As Tallis puts it: "The existence of PEA not only explains why we crave love, but also why a romance interrupted in its early stages can be so distressing." The sudden drop in PEA and general arousal when a lover is rejected leads to depression and extreme agitation - like a drug addict?s crash into 'cold turkey'. Should the relationship survive into the second stage, however, another range of chemicals comes into play. When we make love, endorphins are released, opium-like substances which regulate pain and pleasure, and alongside them a hormone known as oxytocin. As French obstetrician Michel Odent described in his ground-breaking book, "The Scientification of Love", this is the same potent combination that is released by both mother and child during labour and delivery, and afterwards during breast-feeding, and which promotes the intense emotional attachment that binds a mother to her child. Stronger than sex It seems that evolution has arranged that when you make love you experience a powerful chemical high specifically geared to creating a life-long emotional bond. Moreover, if a man's levels of oxytocin rise by three to five times during orgasm, a woman's rise even more and seem to climb with every subsequent orgasm. It is no wonder therefore that many women succumb to addictive patterns of loving - and that the longer they love, the more painfully they experience the breakdown of a relationship."


"Love Is a Drug"

Dan Pulcrano, Metroactive, Feb 9-15, 2005

"I had suspected that the experience formerly known as love was a chemically induced phenomenon. I had heard about chocolate generating a lovelike euphoria and about something called oxytocin, the hormone responsible for afterglows and feelings of attachment. (I think this was my father's version of the birds-and-the-bees discussion, even though it was long after I had left the house.) If LSD could twist the world into kaleidoscopic art and antidepressants convert all the miserable people I know into tolerable individuals, why couldn't some gland secrete an intravenous secret love sauce with mind-altering and history-shaping capabilities? Not to mention consequences for the global economy: Where would the flower, travel, automobile, pop music, fashion, family law and antiperspirant industries be without love? My self-serving, half-baked theory usually reserved for girlfriend-dumping conversations received some unexpected support during my first phone conversation with cultural anthropologist William Jankowiak of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas—a man with impeccable academic credentials in spite of the fact that he lives in Las Vegas. Jankowiak informed me that in the past decade researchers have come to understand that romantic passion is largely a function of endocrinology. "We're hard-wired to engage in passion," he revealed. Lest we get all in a funk over the helpless determinism of our chemical dependency, Jankowiak expands, pointing out that romance is "settled by cognitive processes." In street terms, we still can think about things and make conscious decisions. Whew! But back to this love-slave business. The agent responsible for the biochemical hallucination colloquially referred to as "love" is an amino acid peptide squirted out of the hypothalamus, a gland about the size and shape of an incense cone that sits just above our brain stems. Maybe, someday, we'll see bumper stickers that say "I [hypothalamus] New York." It would be more accurate, even though the heart still manifests the physical evidence of romantic attraction that fuels common metaphors. The thump thump inside your chest, however, may simply be the heart-rate-quickening effects of intravenously transported oxytocin. The hormone's power first came to light in 1979 when oxytocin-injected virgin male rats began to display maternal behavior. Of course, that was back when musk oil, back hair and bushy sideburns were considered sexy. And we know a lot more about it now.  For example, while we like to think of love as a human condition, Jankowiak mentions casually that oxytocin is found in prairie bull dogs and elephant seals. Perhaps we don't consider the writhing and barking of sea mammals on a par with the love poetry of Blake or Ovid, but tell that to a seal. It is highly likely that William Blake had elevated levels of oxytocin, as people in generally love do. The flip side of that is a lowered level of testosterone that occurs during love bouts of oxytocin poisoning. And that explains much of the difference between the desires for love and sex, as well as the irreconcilable differences between men and women. Testosterone "fosters a tendency for rovingness," Jankowiak explains, while oxytocin encourages monogamy. "Love is focusing on one person and one person only. It's exclusive. Only one person will do. Sex, on the other hand, is inclusive. Anyone will do, really." The dual phenomena can occur simultaneously at times. "Women can be in love with one person and have sex with another," the professor points out. The new insights gained into human physiology in the past quarter-century probably call for a biochemical audit of history, because this can explain a lot of things. Satan, the snake in the Garden of Eden, temptation, your evil twin, the battle between the good angel on your shoulder and the pull of pleasures of the flesh—all those may just be ways of explaining the thoughts that race through our minds as we come on to various doses of testosterone and oxytocin that race through our bloodstream. Once the realm of poets, artists and philosophers, love has been exposed as brain chemistry. The French obstetrician Michel Odent calls this "the signification of love." It's a decidedly unromantic concept that will not sell many long-stemmed roses, heart-shaped boxes of candy or skimpy lingerie outfits. Who knows, though? Maybe oxytocin will become the next Viagra and spark a whole new wave of Internet spam. The desire for warmth and caring will replace pressure for sexual performance. Oxytocin mickeys will overtake roofies as the date-rape drug of choice. We'll all have beautiful, snuggly, long-term relationships and live happily ever after."


"Dear Wanda: Reality of 'time apart' becoming more clear"

"Wanda", Anchorage Daily News, 03/11/205

"Dear Wanda: While I enjoyed hearing what you had to say about chemistry and love (Feb. 25), you forgot a crucial component: the mother-infant bond. It has been proven that mothers, especially nursing mothers, produce ample levels of oxytocin. This strengthens the bond between them while ensuring the best survival chances for the infant. Interestingly enough, surges of oxytocin have also been found in the blood of men and women during orgasm. -- Chemistry Pointers

Dear Chemistry Pointers: Thanks for that, ah, interesting bit of information. The maddening thing about love is that no one really understands it. Oh, we can talk about the chemical and scientific aspects until we turn blue in the face. But the truth is, when love hits, it's like a sickness -- a wonderful, incredible, mind-altering fever."


 

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