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Pondering the Brain

Some Drugs Boost Oxytocin

A lot of us are looking for ways to get more oxytocin in our lives; specifically, we want to be able to connect to people better. A new study found that the generic version of [a drug used by men] increases the amount of oxytocin released in the brain.

According to a story in WisBusiness, Meyer Jackson, a physiology professor at the the University of Wisconsin's Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, found that treating the pituitary glands of rats with [this drug used to treat a specific malfunction in specialized tissue] increased the amount of oxytocin they released -- but only in response to stimulation. The story says,

Oxytocin release is regulated by an enzyme that acts like a braking system, limiting hormone release by dampening neural excitation of the cells.  This same enzyme, phosphodiesterase type 5, also limits blood flow by contracting the muscles around blood vessels.

In both places, this drug works by blocking this enzyme, essentially releasing the brakes, explains Jackson.  In blood vessels, relaxing smooth muscle increases blood flow, which corrects [***] dysfunction, and in the posterior pituitary, the cells become more responsive.  "The same stimulation will produce more [oxytocin] release."

It's very important to note that oxytocin release wasn't increased across the board. {The drug] doesn't immediately cause an erection; it only increases the amount and duration of distension when there's sexual stimulation. Similarly, this effect in the brain only took place when the researchers tickled the neurons there with electricity.

The interesting question is, would [this drug]increase the bonding effect that takes place after sex?

Oxytocin plays a dual role in the body, traveling through the blood stream and acting on tissues as a hormone, while it's also released into the brain, where it seems to create social memory: the recognition of others as lovers and friends.

It's released into the brain after orgasm, and it's likely that this release is what causes sex and orgasm to bond us together. This would have been an adaptive advantage, because the bond would keep the man around to help protect and care for the baby that might result.

This research focused on the pituitary gland, which stores oxytocin. My understanding is that the pituitary releases oxytocin into the bloodstream, while the hypothalamus, the organ that produces oxytocin, is the one responsible for releasing it into the brain.  So it would be the hypothalamic release that might increase bonding.

At the same time, oxytocin circulating throughout the body promotes rest, relaxation and healing. So, Viagra could increase the health benefits of oxytocin -- and of a great sexual romp.

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