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February 28, 2024 7 mins

Our brains release the hormone oxytocin during pleasant circumstances and bonding experiences -- but can we really take it to induce those experiences? Learn why it's complicated in this episode of BrainStuff, based on this article: thttps://health.howstuffworks.com/human-body/systems/endocrine/oxytocin.htm

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio, Hey brain Stuff,
Lauren Vogelbaum. Here in our wide world of problems, you
can bet that someone out there is willing to sell
you a solution. For example, if you want to go
on more dates, there are supplement brands that will sell

(00:22):
you nasal sprays containing oxytocin and naturally occurring hormone produced
in the human brain. Since these sprays aren't approved by
the US Food and Drug Administration, they can't be sold
as a cure or treatment for anything, in particular in
our bodies. The hormone is chiefly responsible for triggering contractions
in pregnant women and letting down milk during lactation, and

(00:45):
is sometimes prescribed for those purposes. But if you've followed
pop health headlines over the last decade, you know that
oxytocin has also been shown to enhance feelings of social
bonding and improve sociability in people with autism. Oxytocin levels
have also been shown to spike during orgasm and positive
touch experiences, and people dosed with extra oxytocin have been

(01:09):
shown to have warmer, fuzzier feelings towards their spouses and partners.
New lovers have been found to have higher natural oxytocin
levels than their single peers, all of which has earned
oxytocin the catchy nickname the love hormone. But while decades
of research have proven that oxytocin clearly has a role

(01:29):
in bonding us to our social and sexual partners, it's
not a magic bullet or magic nasal sprits to achieve
romantic bliss. Experts warn that there is still plenty to
learn about this popular neuropeptide, and the oxytocin is likely
not the only ingredient in the complex biochemical soup that
we call love. For the article this episode is based

(01:53):
on How Stuff Works, spoke with doctor Bradley Anawalt, who's
the chief of Medicine at the University of Washington Medical
Center and board certified and endocrinology, so he's a hormone specialist.
He's had a front row seat as scientists have uncovered
oxytocin's curious effects on brain chemistry and human behavior. He
spoke about studies showing that doses of intranasal oxytocin light

(02:17):
up the same reward centers in the brain as do
sexual arousal chocolate cake and drugs like cocaine, and that
people treated with oxytocin are more attracted to images of
faces that resemble their spouse, and that men in relationships
will stand farther back from an attractive stranger while under
the influence of extra oxytocin. But Anawalt says it's important

(02:41):
to distinguish that in most of these studies, the administration
of oxytocin nasal spray doesn't make the recipient fall in
love with anyone. It's more accurate to say that the
extra dose of the hormone enhances our emotional reaction to
people with whom we are already romantically or socially bonded.
A Walt pointed specifically to the study in which men

(03:02):
in committed relationships who were treated with oxytocin preferred to
stand farther away from an attractive research assistant compared to
those treated with placebo. The study authors concluded that oxytocin
might play a role in promoting monogamy in men. For animal,
the question is whether the oxytocin influences monogamy by enhancing

(03:22):
sexual attraction or by reinforcing social expectations. Annawalt said If
I'm bonded to a female partner, that means I love
the person or I'm strongly attracted to her and my
feelings for that person are accentuated by the oxytocin, and
therefore I respond differently to her than to other women.

(03:42):
That's one plausible explanation. Another explanation is that oxytocin is
simply reinforcing a social relationship I have with somebody. I'm
supposed to be with my female partner, and I'm not
supposed to be with this other woman. Oxytocin is a
neurotransmitter and hornyrmone that's produced by the hypothalamus in the brain.

(04:03):
It's released during sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth, all activities that
have to do with bonding. It could be nature's way
of promoting familial support by reinforcing positive feelings with people
were already physically close to. Researchers have tested natural oxytosin
levels and the blood of both men and women before, during,
and after sexual activities, and oxtosin levels go up as

(04:26):
arousal increases during female orgasm. Oxytocin likely plays a similar
role to what it does in childbirth. A flood of
the hormone into the bloodstream triggers smooth muscle contractions in
the uterus and pelvic muscles. A body massage has also
been shown to increase natural oxotosin levels in the bloodstream,
another sign that physical pleasure is mediated by oxytocin in

(04:48):
some way. But Anawalt was quick to point out that
it's not all about sex. He said, the flip side
of this is that reading a good book also increases oxtose.
It may be that a relaxed state, or a general
state of pleasure, is associated with high oxytocin levels. There

(05:09):
are a number of interesting findings indicating that oxytocin alone
isn't enough to produce happily bonded relationships. The effect that
oxytocin has depends on the overall quality of our existing relationships.
A twenty ten study, for example, administered oxytocin or placebo
to a group of men and asked each of them
to describe their mother's parenting style. You might expect that

(05:32):
men who received oxytocin would have warmer recollections about their moms,
but that was only true with men who also described
their current relationships as healthy and happy. Men who were
more anxiously attached in their current relationships described their mothers
as less caring on oxytocin than just placebo. Another study
showed that doses of oxytocin increase in group favoritism and

(05:57):
the exclusion of others. The researchers concluded that the close
social bonds enhanced by oxytocin come at a cost to outsiders,
who are viewed as even less trustworthy. Follow Up studies
found similar associations between oxytocin and negative emotions like envy, distrust, favoritism,
and schadenfreud. This reinforces the idea that oxytocin appears to

(06:20):
function as an emotional enhancer and not, as one of
the study authors put it, an all purpose attachment panacea.
Today's episode is based on the article does Oxytocin Make
Us Fall in Love? On HowStuffWorks dot Com written by
Dave rus. Brainstuff is production of iHeartRadio in partnership with

(06:41):
how stuffworks dot Com, and it is produced by Tyler Klang.
Four more podcasts my heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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