Maybe Love Can Cure Cancer!

New research shows that love (aka oxytocin) may be able to help cure cancer.

I tend to find anecdotes of people healing themselves through meditation, good thoughts, etc. as too woo-woo. But here is science finding that imbalances in peptide hormones can cause cancer - and that rebalancing these hormones can maybe cure it.

Chris Easton, PhD, and graduate student Lucy Ca, of The AustralianNational  University, are researching PAM, an enzyme that activates oxytocin and calcitonin, which promotes cell proliferation.

High levels of calcitonin are found in patients with small-cell lung cancer. They found that in cultures of this cancer, controlling PAM reduced levels of calcitonin.

The article begins, "Research into an enzyme that produces a hormone released after sex has inspired ANU chemists to create new treatments for small-cell lung cancer."

Unfortunately, the article doesn't make clear how oxytocin plays into this, if at all, and I'm not finding the study itself. My guess is that the key is in the balancing of peptide hormones. If both oxytocin and calcitonin are influenced by PAM, maybe more oxytocin leads to less calcitonin?

Chemistry experts out there, please weigh in!


Love That Limbic Resonance

5875063116_5ec017c330_m The New York Times published a fascinating article about research monitoring the heart rates of villagers in San Pedro Manrique, Spain, as they watch the annual ritual of firewalking.

 

Each year, on June 25, they celebrate the summer solstice by walking barefoot across a 25-foot-long bed of burning embers, each carrying a relative or friend on the back. The researchers wanted to compare the heart rates of the firewalkers to those of spectators, hoping to uncover the physiological basis of community feeling. According to the article,

 

The heart rates of relatives and friends of the fire-walkers followed an almost identical pattern to the fire-walkers' rates, spiking and dropping almost in synchrony. The heart rates of visiting spectators did not. The relatives' rates synchronized throughout the event, which lasted 30 minutes, with 28 fire-walkers each making five-second walks. So relatives or friends' heart rates matched a fire-walker's rate before, during and after his walk. Even people related to other fire-walkers showed similar patterns.

 

... Said Michael Richardson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Cincinnati, "It shows that being connected to someone is not just in the mind. There are these fundamental physiological behavioral moments that are occurring continuously with other people that we're not aware of."

 

Although we may not normally be aware of this connection, it's well-known as the state of limbic resonance. In limbic resonance, the bodies of two or more people harmonize: the breathing rate becomes similar, heart rates synch, physical postures and gestures may match. Because breath and heart rate are controlled by chemicals in the bloodstream and brain, it's also likely that people in resonance also synch up biochemically.

 

Limbic resonance is best known between mother and baby. In fact, a newborn's nervous system is not capable of regulating itself. A baby needs to be near a grown-up body in order to settle and soothe. This is why infants deprived of physical contact fail to thrive. The mother or primary caregiver actually guides the baby's nervous system as it tunes in to the mother's. This drive to synch with another person's nervous system remains with us throughout our lives.

 

Orgasmic meditation derives much of its power and pleasure from the state of limbic resonance. OM is an opportunity to experience another person's body and to sink into that state of physical unity in a direct and conscious way. In a larger OM circle, everyone in the room can come into resonance, even if they are not OMing.  

 

And, of course, orgasm is a reliable way to get oxytocin flowing through the bloodstream, where it triggers the relaxation response, improves healing, reduces pain and anxiety and generally tunes the body up. Sex seems to be "designed" to not only bring us closer but to make us healthier.

 

PHOTO: idontlikeribera


Can Hate Help You Get Over Love?

I answered this question on Quora, and thought it was worthwhile posting the answer here, as well.

Q: Is it easier to get over someone you cared for once by enthusiastically hating them?

Actually, while hating is not ultimately a rewarding or useful emotion, in the short term it could be a practical way to reframe the physiological state of broken-heartedness and longing for a lost love.  Hate is related to love as a state in the body and brain.

 Unfortunately, advice to just forget about him or her doesn't work well. It's difficult to force emotions to change, and it's not emotionally healthy. When you tamp down any emotion, even a negative one, you are reducing your ability to fully feel all emotions.

FMRI studies have shown that the state of romantic love is similar to reward-seeking and competitive activities, which usually are characterized by high levels of dopamine. (Dopamine is the brain chemical of pleasure, but levels begin to drop as soon as you get the reward.) It's likely that the brain chemistry of the person dumped is also high in testosterone (lusting for the beloved) and oxytocin (being bonded to the beloved).

Now, here's the speculative connection between love and hate:

A couple of recent studies have shown that oxytocin also plays a part in aggression toward outsiders; testosterone is also a chemical of aggression; and dopamine creates high focus on its object.

Biologists define emotion as a physiological state that we then name using the prefrontal cortex. So, if our broken-hearted person already has lots of oxytocin, testosterone and dopamine circulating in his or her brain, creating these responses, it should not be too difficult to reframe the emotion as hate. "He's awful. I wouldn't want her."

If you remove the reward-seeking element, dopamine levels should drop, allowing the focus on the other person to fade away.


Long-term Ecstasy Not So Great

New research shows that ecstasy, or MDMA, creates what may be permanent changes in the brain.

Ecstasy works in part by releasing oxytocin into the brain, producing those feelings of unity and connection. Over time, unfortunately, it seems to make the brain hyper-excitable, leading to less efficiency.

Ronald Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University scanned the brains of subjects who had used ecstasy and those who had never tried MDMA.

They found increased brain activation in three brain areas associated with visual processing in Ecstasy users with the highest lifetime exposure to the drug. The findings were consistent with the investigators' predictions based on results from animal models: that Ecstasy use is associated with a loss of serotonin signaling, which leads to hyper-excitability (increased activation) in the brain.

The hyper-excitability suggests a loss in brain efficiency, Cowan said, "meaning that it takes more brain area to process information or perform a task."

It's not clear just what about the drug causes these effects, but it's worth noting not only for MDMA users but also for those wondering about dosing themselves with oxytocin.


Oxytocin Project: Women in a State of Collaboration

The Oxytocin Project, launched by BraveHeartWomen.com, aims to inspire women around the world to connect and collaborate. Founder Ellie Drake talks about oxytocin as a spiritual state.

According to the press release, "Drake’s goal is to teach women to live in a state of Oxytocin which enables women to be more creative, powerful and successful. ... To succeed, women need to feel safe, to maintain a state of calmness and security, and to follow their inner nature that promotes a ‘tend and befriend’ approach to collaboration. In other words, they need to be in a state of Oxytocin ..."

It may not be a scientifically accurate message -- oxytocin ebbs and flows throughout the day, and the feeling of connection seems to be triggered by changes in oxytocin levels in the brain.

Nevertheless, it's an emotionally resonant message, and I am all for Drake's efforts to get women to recognize that our strenghts may be different from men's and as valuable.


Rare Chance to Hear from Sue Carter

Sue Carter,  the University of Illinois scientist who helped discover how oxytocin helps us bond, is doing a $50 webinar for the Canadian Lactation Consultant Association.

Her work with prairie voles helped solve the mystery of human attachment. But she hasn't had as high a profile as some other oxytocin researchers.

Here's the promo for the webinar, held April 7, from 3:30 to 5 EDT:

Sue Carter, PhD is Professor of Psychiatry and Co-Director of The Brain Body Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Dr. Carter studies the neurobiology of socio-emotional behaviors, including social bonds and parental behavior.  Her work also led to the discovery that oxytocin and vasopressin can program the developing nervous system with life-long consequences for brain and behavior.   She has authored over 250 articles and edited 5 volumes including “Attachment and Bonding: A New Synthesis” (MIT Press, 2006). Dr. Carter has served as President of the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society, and was recipient of a Research Career Scientist Award from NIH.

Sign up for the webinar with Sue Carter.

 


The Connection Continuum

I've officially nominated oxytocin as the God Molecule. If you look at our capacity for connection on a continuum, it can go from the womb, where we are connected to our birth mother, out and upward to the spiritual connection we may feel with things greater than ourselves.

I've described oxytocin's role along the Connection Continuum in an article for Vision magazine called A New Look at Orgasm. Please check it out.

 

 


New Cuddle Drug: Meth

In Time, Maya Salavitz reports on a new study indicating that:

... at least in low, oral doses — the effects of methamphetamine may be much more like those of ecstasy than previously believed, increasing sociability and playfulness, and belying its bad name. What's more, the study finds that the empathetic behavior exhibited by ecstasy users may result from a reduced ability to read certain social cues, rather than any enhancement in sharing other people's feelings.

Okay, the MDMA part makes sense to me. Oxytocin (released by MDMA) calms my amygdala, making me less vigilant. So, I can relax. In fact, this seems to be what happened, according to the article:
"We found that the drug actually decreased the capacity to read negative emotion, specifically fear," says Bedi. Reducing the detection of fearful faces might increase "empathetic" behavior — even while reducing the ability to accurately read feelings — by making people more likely to get closer to strangers, rather than maintaining distance because of fear.

BTW: The researchers cautioned that dosage and safety were critical elements of this study. If you're huffing on the meth at home, you might not feel as huggy.

Oxytocin May Be as Strong in Polyamory as in Monogamy

54718701_9ab871dcc5 This research is a couple of years old, but it really struck me.

You may have heard of the naked mole rat, a weird little beast that can eat a lot of worms really fast. Naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) live in colonies with a single breeding queen, much like bees do. Many of the non-breeding individuals care cooperatively for the young.

According to Lisa Conti in Miller-McCune, Nancy Forger of the University of Massachusetts found that there were lots of oxytocin receptors in the rats' nucleus accumbens, which is considered the pleasure center in mammals -- including humans.

Researchers think that this distribution contributes to social monogamy (as opposed to strict sexual monogamy), for example, in the famously monogamous prairie voles. The idea is, the pleasure of sex is tied to the individual mate, creating a bond and a state in the brain that looks very similar to addiction.

So, if the mole rats are equally bonded to the group, it seems like this could illuminate the basis of a similar bond in a polyamorous family.

photo: Riude (Juhan Ristolainen)