Oxytocin: The PrimerNovember 04, 2013
The Oxytocin Primer
What is oxytocin? It’s one of our pituitary hormones. It is secreted deep in our brain (paraventricular nuclei in the hypothalamus) by neurons that have a long axon attached to them that runs down into the back of the pituitary. At the end of those axons are terminals from which oxytocin is secreted. We discovered it and started using it around childbirth. When a woman is at the end of labor, oxytocin kicks in and assists in making her uterus make that final push. Her brain is flooded with it and the screaming bloody baby now looks like the most beautiful thing on this planet. She bonds with wonderful, tender loyalty to that infant. It’s hers.
If her labor gets interrupted and stalls, the Ob-Gyn doctor can order a “pit drip” which is doctor–nurse talk for oxytocin by IV to help the labor finish up. That’s how we have been using oxytocin. That’s not the only place that oxytocin works. When a woman is breastfeeding, the stimulation to her breasts also releases oxytocin. When a couple share an intimate moment and reach orgasm, they secrete a rush of oxytocin. Bonding ensues!
As we age, we make less oxytocin and our receptors become less and less sensitive. The part of our brain that mediates emotion called the amygdala is loaded with oxytocin receptors. It makes sense that intimate, loving events with intense, trusting relationships are called “oxytocin moments". This part of the brain is deeply involved and damaged in schizophrenia, suggesting that oxytocin may play a role there. But that’s not how oxytocin broke onto the secular scene.
Dr Hertoghe talked with Dr Flechas about 15 years ago, a fibromyalgia specialist, about his experiences with oxytocin. Dr. Flechas had a patient who related to him that her pain went away after reaching orgasm. He wondered if this could be related to oxytocin. With a bit of experimentation with oxytocin and compounding it, she was able to have her chronic pain markedly reduced. As Dr. Flechas experimented with more fibromyalgia patients he started having strange experiences. He had one couple that took the first dose of oxytocin in the office and left without any apparent effect. On the way home, however, she became so enamored and amorous the couple had to stop at a motel for “relief”. The husband was quite enthusiastic.
All the mechanisms by which oxytocin performs its pain magic aren’t known but in animal models rats have been shown to have higher levels of the body’s natural morphine-like substances like beta-endorphin and l-enkephalin. And when given morphine blockers the oxytocin effect doesn’t work. The hypothesis is developing that the chronic stress many of us live under depletes oxytocin, lowering peoples’ total body store of oxytocin and allowing the balance to tip towards chronic pain. The core problem may be chronic stress. We can’t always fix the stress, but we can replace the oxytocin.
WWW. What will work for me? I want to learn about it. Next week we will cover a bit more about this new hormone that we were meant to have, and which is depleted as we live past our historical natural age. Feeling tired? Want more tenderness? Don’t we all!
1. Oxytocin is the hormone women make when they give birth? T or F Answer: True. It helps make the uterus squeeze the last bit of labor and then helps the brain feel feelings of intense emotional attachment.
2. Oxytocin is the hormone that also floods us when we have a peak sexual experience. T or F Answer: True. That's why it has been called the love hormone.
3. Oxytocin curiously causes pain in some people. T or F Answer: Actually that would be false. It has been shown to relieve pain in many unexpected places like folks with fibromyalgia, or kids with chronic abdominal pain.
4. The part of your brain that mediates emotion, the amygdala, has tons of oxytocin receptors. T or F AnswerTrue. This may be why it has such strong emotional effects.
5. Experimental models with chronic pain seem to show that it alleviates that pain by mimicking or enhancing natural morphine-like substances. T or F Answer: T. Isn't that interesting!
Column written by Dr John E Whitcomb, MD Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI