Love Hormone


Introduction

  • Oxytocin is a natural hormone that is secreted by the hypothalamus, but it is stored and secreted into the bloodstream by the posterior pituitary gland. It controls various aspects of the male and female reproductive systems as well as human behaviour.

  • Oxytocin is derived from a Greek word that means "quick birth". It is generally considered a female hormone as it is majorly involved in the labour and childbirth process and even lactation.

  • It acts as a neurotransmitter. The fact that it is also called the "love hormone" is because during hugging someone or during sexual activities such as orgasm, the level of oxytocin increases in our body and is associated with various feelings such as trust, empathy, and relationship building.

Functions of Oxytocin

  • It is involved in parturition as it causes contractions in the uterine muscles and is also used clinically to induce labour.

  • The release of oxytocin is also seen during sexual activity and some case studies suggest that it facilitates the lubrication of the vagina and sexual arousal.

  • Oxytocin also plays an important role in reproduction as it is considered a potent hormone that induces the erection of the penis in males.

  • It also helps in the maturation and transportation of sperm.

  • It is also seen to be involved in influencing social behaviour not only in humans but across other species also. It facilitates the formation of emotional bonds.

  • Oxytocin is considered an anxiolytic or anti-anxiety agent as it is seen to reduce the level of stress hormones in rats as well as in humans.

  • It helps in lactation and ejects milk from mammary glands. As the baby suckles the nipple area, a nerve impulse is generated and transmits the signal to the hypothalamus which causes oxytocin secretion and ultimately lead to contraction and ejection of milk.

Side Effects While Using a Drug

Oxytocin is used as a drug by healthcare providers in cases of pregnancy. It is used to induce labour and to stop bleeding after the birth of the baby. But using it for a prolonged period can cause a wide array of side effects, some of which are −

  • uneven or slow-fast heart rate.

  • difficulty in swallowing or breathing.

  • swelling of the face, mouth, lips, throat, legs, or ankles .

  • eye problems or blurred vision.

  • rashes or hives on the body and itching.

  • nausea or vomiting.

  • jaundice, generally seen in new-borns.

  • prolonged uterine contractions and excessive bleeding after childbirth.

  • abdominal pain or severe stomach ache.

  • can also lead to permanent brain damage or central nervous system damage.

Love Hormone and Motherhood

The reason oxytocin is considered a love hormone is because of its role and involvement in social and emotional bonding, reproduction, and maternal behaviour. Oxytocin and its receptors are found to be involved in various aspects of relationships, such as mating, and maternal as well as paternal instincts and behaviour. In some case studies, it was observed that if virgin female sheep were given oxytocin by infusion into the cerebrospinal fluid, they would show maternal behaviour towards foreign lambs. This maternal behaviour can be quantified by four aspects:

  • Gaze

  • Affect

  • Touch

  • Vocalization

In the case of other species, strong attachment of the mother towards their child can be observed if the mother exhibits positive energy by gazing at her child with love and affection and using soft motherese speech.

whereas in the case of sheep that have given birth to their offspring or after their parturition, if they were treated with oxytocin antagonist, they did not show any typical maternal behaviour towards their young ones.

Oxytocin plays an important role in the three major processes of motherhood.

  • Labor- Oxytocin signals the uterus to contract its muscles, which helps to push the child during labour pains. It also initiates the production of other pregnancyrelated hormones. Even after the pregnancy ends, it helps the uterus regain its previous size.

  • Breastfeeding- When the baby lactates on the mother’s mammary glands, oxytocin is released, which signals alveolar ducts to eject the milk. The release of oxytocin is a positive feedback loop, suckling of the baby to the nipples enhances the release of more oxytocin.

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  • Bonding- Mothers who have high levels of oxytocin throughout the pregnancy and in the first month of postpartum show affectionate maternal behaviour. They seem to do frequent checks on the baby, sing to the baby and groom the baby well.

Research also suggests that babies who experience such care from mothers will also experience a boost of oxytocin, which enhances their contact with the mother, resulting in an increase in bonding.

Oxytocin Sprays

  • Oxytocin is a hormone that is naturally produced in the body, but it can also be administered from outside. It is available in injectable form as well as in the form of nasal spray. The nasal spray comes under the brand names Pitocin and Syntocinon.

  • For an injection, it takes a lot of time to cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the brain, but nasal sprays can readily cross the blood-brain barrier in no time. So oxytocin nasal sprays are used to study psychiatric effects in medical studies.

  • Intranasal administration takes about 48-50 minutes to act after the administration.

  • Oxytocin sprays are used for inducing labour in cases of pregnancy by doctors.

  • It is also used for curing obesity. Several studies have been conducted that show that intranasal oxytocin improves self-control and social behaviours, which helps in curing obesity by reducing food intake.

  • Intranasal oxytocin sprays play a major role in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder. As there is no prescribed medicine for this disorder, studies suggest that the administration of nasal sprays reduces repetitive behaviour in patients and helps in improving their speech.

Conclusion

Love hormone is a term that is given to the oxytocin hormone on the basis of its function. It is secreted by the hypothalamus but released by the posterior pituitary gland. It is generally involved in uterine contraction during labour and after childbirth in lactation. It is released by our bodies when we are engaged in sexual activity or cuddling or when we are in love. That’s why it's called the "love hormone."

FAQs

Q1. What is autism spectrum disorder?

Ans. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder of the brain that interferes with how the person perceives and reacts to social conditions. It affects the person’s ability to think, act, communicate, and behave. The patients generally show limited and repetitive behaviour patterns. It generally develops in the early childhood stage.

Q2. Why is it called a spectrum disorder?

Ans. It is called a spectrum disorder because there is a wide range of symptoms and severity of the disease, which depends on the person’s experience.

Q3. How can oxytocin act as an anxiolytic agent?

Ans. It can lead to the production of anti-stress effects, such as a decrease in blood pressure levels and cortisol levels. It increases the pain threshold and healing.

Updated on: 29-Dec-2022

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