A Paradoxical Reaction to Oxytocin?
True Love and Business

Oxytocin Deficit Disorder

Everything that's outside the norm or seems unhealthy is considered a disorder these days. This partly reflects Big Pharma's desire to increase profits by finding new diseases it can treat. Nevertheless, I believe that recognizing some things that used to be considered character flaws or hopeless cases as disorders that might be treatable have benefited millions of people.

Now, instead of being classified as a bad or stupid kid, children who disrupt class and have trouble learning may be given the less pejorative label of ADHD. While how to help them remains controversial, with many people thinking these kids are over-medicated, many others are thankful the drugs are working.

The same thing is true with clinical depression, as well as its cousin, post-partum depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, can alter neurochemistry and help many sufferers lead better lives. Dario Maestripieri of the University of Chicago has shown that the kind of mothering a baby rhesus macaque monkey gets influences the serotonin levels of its brain on into adulthood. Baby rhesus with mean mothers show symptoms of depression.

Evidence is mounting that babies and children who don't get enough or the right kind of nurturing may have abnormal brain development. This can result in an overactive stress response and an under-active oxytocin response. Similarly, some scientists are looking at abnormalities in the oxytocin system as causal factors in autism.

I think the day will come -- in the next three to five years -- when something like "oxytocin deficit disorder" will make its way into the DSM -- and into psychopharmacology. Drugs that introduce an oxytocin-like substance into the body, or increase its production by the hypothalamus or other oxytocin-producing sites, may provide a quicker fix for people who feel they can't connect emotionally with others.