If it were possible to make a love drug, then oxytocin would undoubtedly be the main ingredient. Oxytocin is a hormone produced mainly by the hypothalamus (an almond sized region of the brain located close to the brain stem that links the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland). Oxytocin is released either directly into the blood via the pituitary gland, or to other parts of the brain and spinal cord. Although probably best known for its role in childbirth and breast feeding, research has shown that oxytocin may have many far-reaching effects for both men and women in many areas of their lives, particularly when it comes to relationships and emotional involvement.
[box]Oxytocin – The Real Love Hormone![/box]
If we go back to childbirth for a moment, we can see just how powerful the effects of oxytocin can be. Oxytocin plays a vital role in triggering and regulating uterine contractions. Indeed, if contractions are not strong enough to complete a delivery, the mother will probably be given oxytocin to help her labor along.
During the third stage of labor, oxytocin helps to ensure that the placenta and membranes are delivered. Obstetricians will often inject the mother with some synthetic oxytocin after the baby is born to speed the delivery of the placenta.
After birth, oxytocin levels are often even higher. This helps to protect the mother because oxytocin causes the uterus to contract down and stop bleeding.
But this isn’t the end of oxytocin’s involvement with childbirth. Oxytocin is sometimes called the “bonding hormone”. For mammals to survive it is crucial that the mother starts to nourish and tend for her young immediately after birth and studies have revealed that oxytocin appears to be responsible for this reaction. Of course for many human babies the establishment of such a bond immediately after birth is not a question of survival, but the effects of oxytocin within the brain still plays a major role in establishing maternal behavior and the bond between mother and baby. You only have to look at mother with her baby to see how powerful the effects of oxytocin can be as it helps to generate the most profound and amazing bond.
Oxytocin also plays a crucial role in breast feeding because it causes the “let down reflex” allowing the milk to flow and enabling a mother to feed her baby. Oxytocin also plays its part in a woman’s menstrual cycle as it is responsible for the uterine contractions that accompany menstruation and cause the expulsion of the uterine lining.
The real excitement surrounding oxytocin and its effects beyond childbirth, lactation and menstruation began in the 1990s. Researchers discovered that breastfeeding women were calmer in the face of exercise and psychosocial stress than their bottle-feeding counterparts. The difference was attributed to the effects of oxytocin. Subsequent research has revealed that oxytocin has many other roles and is not just confined to childbirth and breast feeding.
Indeed, because of its role in childbirth and lactation, it was wrongly assumed at first that oxytocin was a ‘female hormone’. It is now known that not only is it present in males but that it is also important for them too. For example, new fathers also experience a rush of feelings towards their new baby and, just as with mothers, oxytocin helps to forge that all important bond and elicit that all important single minded devotion to their offspring. Oxytocin is also the reason why we form all sorts of deep connections not only with our children, but with our partners, friends and even our pets.
Oxytocin may also be responsible for turning potentially stressful experiences into opportunities for expressing love and joy. Again, look at childbirth. For many women, childbirth is an incredibly stressful experience which could easily give rise to post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) but oxytocin appears to play a role in helping a new mother manage both her emotional and physiological responses to such a stressful experience and prevent PTSD. Instead the experience is usually one that resonates with emotions of deep and profound happiness. It’s believed that it’s oxytocin that plays a large part in helping to generate these feelings. Oxytocin also helps to repress memories of the pain of childbirth making it more likely that a woman will go through it all again and have more children.
Research has also revealed that oxytocin plays a huge role in the non-procreative aspects of sex. Both women and men release oxytocin during lovemaking – but not only is oxytocin released during orgasm, it appears to be responsible for causing orgasms in the first place.
Sometimes called “the cuddle hormone”, oxytocin is released in response to a variety of environmental stimuli including skin-to-skin contact and cervical stimulation experienced during sex. At normal levels oxytocin encourages a mild desire to be kissed and cuddled by your lover. But being touched (anywhere on the body) leads to a rise in oxytocin levels. This causes a cascade of reactions within the body, including the release of endorphins and testosterone, which results in both biological and psychological arousal. The nerves in erogenous zones such as the earlobes, neck and genitals become sensitized by the effects of oxytocin. It promotes a bond of intimacy, closeness and desire which increases sexual receptiveness and the desire to be touched further – being touched further causes even more oxytocin to be released and so desire and arousal is heightened even more. Put simply, oxytocin loves sexual foreplay and sexual foreplay loves oxytocin.
But not only does oxytocin love foreplay, it also triggers powerful orgasms. Research indicates that oxytocin causes the nerves in the genitals to fire spontaneously, and this leads to orgasm. During orgasm, male oxytocin levels quintuple, but this is nothing compared to female oxytocin levels. Women need more oxytocin if they are to reach an orgasm and during peak sexual arousal, oxytocin levels become stratospheric. If this point is reached and the woman’s brain is flooded with oxytocin, she may indeed be capable of achieving multiple orgasms.
And the good news doesn’t just end there – oxytocin can provide real health benefits. Oxytocin helps to regulate sleep patterns, calms you and contributes to a general sense of well being. It is also the reason why, for example, people with pets tend to recover more quickly from illness, why married people tend to live longer and why support groups benefit those with cancer. Although not yet fully understood, it is believed that key to oxytocin’s health giving benefits lie in its ability to counteract stress and the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. Nearly every disease and condition is aggravated by stress – ease the stress and healing will inevitably be helped.
Given its ability to generate deep and profound emotional connections, and its ability to fuel feelings of sexual intimacy and desire culminating in powerful orgasms, oxytocin really is the nearest thing to a love potion.
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Note: This article is reprinted with the permission of International Antiaging Systems.