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December 2007
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February 2008

Update on "Love Chemistry: The Book"

As a lot of you know, I started this blog while researching a book to explain how oxytocin lets us love and bond -- and how a weak oxytocin response can leave us lonely.

That book should have been coming out any day now -- but it's not going to. In 2006, I got a contract with Amacom Books, and delivered the manuscript last June. Boy, does that seem far away by blogging and internet standards.

Two months later, I got a brief email from my editor saying it wasn't publishable as it stood and needed more work. Fair enough. But I never got feedback from him about what he wanted. As the months dragged on, we missed the spring 2008 publication date, then fall 2008, and we were on track to miss spring 2009. Still no word.

So, I found a wonderful new publisher and a kind editor who's already given me more feedback and help than Amacom ever did. That's the good news. The bad news is, my book is now scheduled for publication in spring 2009 by New Harbinger.

I'll continue to write this blog, tracking the latest research, which continues hot and heavy, and also looking at how the awareness of the oxytocin response is reflected in the media.

How to Stimulate Labor Naturally

This outstanding article, charmingly titled Come On, Baby,  from  Malaysian's The Star provides an overview and commentary on the many methods for bringing on childbirth naturally. The author, Dr. Nor Ashikin Mokhtar, offers a grounded, common-sense approach that's solidly backed up by medicine.

In addition to the list of different things to try -- and things you should not try -- she offers a very different opinion on just when to try to get labor going. It sounds like the majority of docs in the United States begin to push for induction of labor after week 39.

Dr. Mokhtar says,

I always tell my patients that there is a reason the baby is staying in there just a bit longer. This is the time when the baby is developing, and forcing it to come out too early may interrupt his or her growth.

That's a very refreshing -- and evidence-based -- piece of advice. And she's not exactly a voice in the wilderness in Malaysia; she is co chairman of Nur Sejahtera, Women & Family Healthcare Program, Ministry of Women, Family and Development.

How Natural Childbirth Prepares Mom and Baby

This column by Judith Lothian of Lamaze International provides a very nice overview of how the hormonal changes that take place during natural childbirth prepare both mother and baby for breastfeeding -- and for the bonding that accompanies it.

She writes that it's not only a baby being born; the laboring woman also is being born as its mother.

While the hormonal orchestration of labor and birth sets the stage in a more immediate way for the process of breastfeeding for both the mother and her baby, she writes,

The disruption of the hormonal orchestration of labor results in women giving birth with relatively low levels of naturally occurring oxytocin, endorphins, and catecholamines. Consequently, the outcome of low hormonal levels is a less responsive mother and baby.

Cuddles Now or Hookups Later

A terrific article in Time magazine talks about how we develop the ability to love -- as well as the style in which we love.

Writer Tiffany Sharples mentions unpublished research showing that kids who grow up in cold or hostile families are more likely to engage in sexual behavior at an early age.

Psychologists have long warned that children who grow up in a hostile home or one in which warmth is withheld are likelier to start having sex earlier and engage in it more frequently. In a study that will be published in March, Trish Williams, a neuropsychology fellow at Alberta Children's Hospital, studied a group of 1,959 kids ages 11 to 13 and did find a striking correlation between a volatile home and earlier sexual behavior. A few of the children had had intercourse at as young an age as 12, and while the number of sexually active kids wasn't high--just 2% of the total--the cause was clear. "Hostile parenting is highly associated with problem behavior," says Williams.

This is another thing that can seem like a big duh. When you don't get enough love at home, you'll try to get it wherever you can -- and for preteens and teens, love is pretty hard to separate from sex. (And that craving for love can be seen as a need for more oxytocin release to counteract the stress of daily life.)

But it's important to have this kind of statistical backing for what some people understand intuitively, because other people don't. Everyone thinks  -- or at least unconsciously feels -- that the way they grew up is normal. If you had cold withdrawn parents, you're very likely to parent your kids the same way, rationalizing it by saying, "They need to be independent and able to stand up to the hardships of life." Or something.

Hey, if you like this story, please Digg it. Thanks!

It Feels Great to Fight

Oxytocin is the hormone of sex, connection and love. It combines with dopamine in our brains to make those kinds of connections feel good -- and to reinforce the idea that it's one specific partner who makes us feel so good.

Of course, sex and love are only a couple of life's many pleasures. Well, it looks like aggression feels just as good as connection.

Maria Coupis of Vanderbilt University designed an ingenious experiment that showed that male mice would, if they could, choose to engage in aggressive interactions with others.

She housed a male and female mouse together, and then introduced another male mouse, the intruder. The resident male would attempt to drive him away with tail rattling, boxing and biting. Next, she trained the house males to poke at a target with their noses to get the intruders to return. She  made the target available once a day and the males consistently poked at it.  This shows that they experienced the opportunity to display aggression as a reward. They "wanted" to fight.

When Coupis suppressed activity of the dopamine receptors in the males' brains, their interest in poking the target and mixing it up with other males decreased. (She also proved that this wasn't due to general lethargy as a result of suppressed dopamine.)

According to the news article:

“We learned from these experiments that an individual will intentionally seek out an aggressive encounter solely because they experience a rewarding sensation from it,” [Craig Kennedy, professor of special education and pediatrics and Coupis' graduate advisor] said. “This shows for the first time that aggression, on its own, is motivating, and that the well-known positive reinforcer dopamine plays a critical role.”

It would be interesting to see whether female rats also enjoyed aggression. Female mammals tend to be more receptive to the effects of oxytocin, due to their higher estrogen and lower testosterone levels. It also would be interesting to see whether the males of a monogamous species were as enthusiastic about aggression.

In humans, mating seems to lower a man's testosterone a bit -- another example of the civilizing effects of marriage.

Acupuncture for an Oxytocin Boost?

When we learn about the amazing benefits of oxytocin for health, happiness and connection, the natural response is, "How can I get more of it?"

Research on oxytocin has quickly moved from the study of its effects on pair bonding in simpler mammals to whether administering it to people in an inhalant can reduce the symptoms of psychological disorders such as social phobia and autism spectrum disorder.

That leaves those of us who don't have diagnosable disorders hanging. I suspect that the purveyors of oxytocin products over the internet are making money hand over fist. The only well-studied method of boosting our own endogenous oxytocin is to have great sex -- not always a possibility.

But there is another way, for the somewhat adventurous: acupuncture. (In California, it's not considered so adventurous -- many HMOs cover acupuncture. I've found it to be an excellent treatment for many things, such as recovering from flu.)

The folks at pointed out that the ancient art of acupuncture has identified "forbidden points" that are never to be stimulated during pregnancy. Stimulating these points can lead to miscarriage, they're taught. On the other hand, these points can also be used to encourage the start of labor when necessary, according to Peter of

Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, one of the goddesses of oxytocin research (and author of The Oxytocin Factor), speculates in "Oxytocin -- a possible mediator of anti-stress effects induced by acupuncture?"  that the pain-relieving effects of acupuncture could be due to an oxytocin release.

A study from China showed that acupuncture caused a release of oxytocin in the brains of rats. See my previous post on this topic, Acupuncture Stimulates Oxytocin, for more.

So, there's very strong evidence that acupuncture on these points would stimulate the oxytocin response in anyone, making it a reliable way to feel more relaxed and more open to others.

If you're skeevish about the needles, you might try acupressure massage. These practitioners stimulate the acupuncture points with their fingers. You could also learn where these points are and massage them on yourself or on your partner. The possibilities are intriguing.

The Odd Poetry of Oxytocin

I don't mean that transcendent state of melting into someone else -- or the universe.  I'm talking about splogs.

I subscribe to a lot of blogs and news feeds through Bloglines. One of them is an ongoing Google Blog Search for "oxytocin," that comes into the feed reader as a list of headlines.

I notice more and more splogs, that is, automated blogs not written by a live person but automatically generated in the attempt to get people to go there and click on ads. (Supposedly, you can make a lot of money this way.)

The resulting headlines are often bizarre. Today, they made some poetic sense.

We were in a weird state of oxytocin structure
As the largest and most oxytocin trust organ in the body
Time now to call in our own Oxytocin spray Alter
The last days of private Oxytocin release
Tricky diagram
Oxytocin pathway ahead
On path to Middle East peace

Pitocin vs. Oxytocin

Robin Elise Weiss has an interesting and informative comparison of the effects of oxytocin and pitocin during childbirth. 

Oxytocin is the hormone and neurochemical produced in the body by the pituitary gland. It's released in waves to speed the baby through the birth canal. Pitocin is an artificial form, administered as a steady drip during medicalized labor or to induce labor.

A key point Weiss makes (although I don't think this has actually been proven scientifically yet):

Pitocin can interfere with bonding. When the body releases oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, it promotes bonding with the baby after birth. Pitocin interferes with the internal release of oxytocin, which can disturb the bonding process.

Weiss is a childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, doula trainer, lactation counselor -- and mother of seven!

Read 5 Ways Pitocin Is Different from Oxytocin. And also check out Birth Faith, Lani's blog about natural childbirth.

Happy Marriage Lowers Stress

Well, this is kind of a big duh to me. But science has now proven that having a happy marriage lowers stress, as measured by cortisol levels.

Remember, oxytocin is the anti-cortisol; it brings the body from arousal to calm. So, a happy marriage equals more cuddling, intimacy and sex, equals more oxytocin, equals faster recovery from stress.

Oxytocin Withdrawal

In The Truth about Mamahood, Claire writes about depression after she stopped breastfeeding.

The first few days, I felt super sad ending the long era of our nursing relationship. I missed seeing her little face nursing, my little baby happily suckling. Then I started to feel extremely light-headed and got some headaches, which was weird- but then depression hit me like a ton of bricks. I was in my dance class (my first without Uma in a long time) and just started bawling over the loss of my mother.

It does seem that, as she implied in her title, that the intensity of these feelings may be due to the sudden lowering of her oxytocin after weaning. I wonder if it's possible to taper off breastfeeding, so your body wouldn't go through such an abrupt withdrawal?