Oxytocin: Something to Bark About

Everyone knows that looking into a dogs eyes is a nice thing to do. Every wondered why the dog-human bond is so powerful? According to Japanese scientists it is oxytocin, the bonding hormone. A new study found that oxytocin is just as critical a component of the human/canine bond as it is the human/human bond. Researchers (Nagasawa, Kikusui, Onaka, and Ohta) believe that oxytocin causes us to employ the same signals with our dogs that we use with our own children. Furthermore, these signals have played a big role in the domestication of dogs

Oxytocin, pets, and pain. Oxytocin is a natural analgesic. One study demonstrated how adults in pet therapy while recovering from total joint-replacement surgery required 50% less pain medication than those who recover without the additional support. It was found that the oxytocinergic neurons project to other brain areas (Sofroniew 1985) which had the effect of elevating the pain threshold. Dogs with higher levels of pain also had elevated oxytocin in their urine. This is a good time to remind ourselves that pain isn’t always all about us. Sometimes our dogs are in pain and we need to remain sensitive to them as they too often suffer in silence.

If your dog seems a little off—maybe he is reluctant to climb the stairs (bad back? Hips?) or seems withdrawn and inactive (fever? Stomach ache?) he or she may be in some unidentified pain. Ironically, oxytocin helps us to open our eyes and see more accurately the nonverbal clues our pets (and children, and parents and friends . . . ) exhibit such that we can make a better assessment of whether or not a ride to the doctor is required. Just remember that the power of oxytocin does not stop with our ability to bond with our dog, (and vis a vis) but our ability to truly “see” and be seen by them. By the way reptiles don’t make oxytocin but they do make a form of it called arginine vasotocin. I will be discussing this in another blog about the evolution of emotion and mammals and lizards and frogs.


Valentine’s Day next week means literally millions across the country will flock to candy stores, flower shops and favorite restaurants to let that special someone know how much they care. Excellent ideas all. Oxytocin Accelerator approaches Valentine’s Day from a more logical stance, the logic being that love is always with us; in our genes, our chemistry, our evolutionary past, our whole nature and there is no faster way to release it.
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Oxytocin: the body’s love drug offers hope to addicts


The feel-good effects of oxytocin have diminished the impact of drug and alcohol use. Now, Australian scientists have launched clinical trials to determine if intranasal oxytocin sprays, methamphetamine addicts, alcoholics, and chronic marijuana users using oxytocin nasal sprays will benefit from a combination of oxytocin sprays and injections. University of Sydney researcher Professor Iain McGregor said. “With excessive alcohol consumption or methamphetamines or cocaine use, people get depleted levels of oxytocin in the brain. So what we might be doing by treating people with oxytocin is restoring the brain system that’s been changed from alcohol and drug abuse. If you can naturally boost their oxytocin levels you can make people less vulnerable to addiction.”

Prof McGregor outlined the results of rat studies in which adolescent rats were given daily oxytocin injections for 10 days before they had any exposure to alcohol. Upon reaching maturity those who had received the oxytocin were not as interested in alcohol and were more sociable than rats not given the injections. They also had higher levels of oxytocin in their brains, suggesting the injection they received had long-lasting effects. Other studies have found oxytocin has similar effects in deterring rats from wanting to indulge in methamphetamines.

Is there a chance they would get hooked on oxytocin? “We don’t think so,” said Prof McGregor. “We know from giving humans intranasal oxytocin sprays it doesn’t seem to have any abuse potential. People who take it don’t feel like they’re on ecstasy. It has a more subtle effect.” Current clinical trials involving the nasal spray have another six months to run. Meanwhile, research is underway in the United States to see if oxytocin can help manage withdrawal symptoms in cannabis addicts.


Oxytocin Gene Linked to Optimism


UCLA scientists have discovered a gene linked to positivity, self-worth and self-belief.   The oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) is a hormone whose level raises in response to stress. “I have been looking for this gene for a few years, and it is not the gene I expected. I knew there had to be a gene for these psychological resources,” commented Shelley E. Taylor, a distinguished professor of psychology at UCLA and senior author of the new research.

Taylor were assessed 326 people for attributes of  self-esteem, positive attitudes and optimism. The DNA from the subjects’ saliva was analyzed for the variants in the OXTR gene. They were also told to fill questionnaires for gauging their depressive symptoms and risk for mental health issues. The team found that at a specific region, the oxytocin receptor appears to have 2 versions an ‘A’ known as adenine variant and a ‘G’ called the guanine variant. Initial studies have revealed that persons with a minimum of one A variant seem to have weak social skills, increased reactivity to stress and bad mental responses.

The analysts found that individuals with 2 ‘A’ nucleotides or 1 ‘A’ and 1 ‘G’ variant at this particular area on the oxytocin receptor gene supposedly have very low levels of optimism, self-esteem and mastery along with substantially greater proportions of depressive symptoms as compared to people with 2 ‘G’ nucleotides.

“Even those with variant A can cope with stress and depression.” Taylor said, “They ought to train themselves to think of good things in life, view themselves as better and increase self-belief. She concludes that though genes indicate actions and behavior, they do not determine it.” The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Click here for more information on how to raise your oxytocin level.

Low Oxytocin Linked to Postpartum Depression

Study Shows Higher Risk of Postpartum Depression for Pregnant Women With Low Levels of Oxytocin

May 11, 2011 – Pregnant women who have lower levels of the hormone oxytocin may be at greater risk for developing postpartum depression a new study shows.

Sometimes called the “cuddle hormone” or the “hormone of love,” oxytocin has been the subject of much research interest for its ability to foster feelings of bonding and attachment.

Previous studies have also suggested that oxytocin is important in parenting behaviors.


New fathers who are given a whiff of oxytocin nasal spray, for example, are more likely to encourage their children to explore during playtime and are less likely to be hostile, compared to fathers given a placebo.


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