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Coverage in Men's Health UK

I was quoted in a fun story in the September 2008 UK edition of Men's Health.

The lead to the article, Test Tube Babe, says, "Getting the girl is all about managing body chemistry. Here's how to engineer all the right reactions."

My quote is on the second page. Unfortunately, I was still using the old book title. But I'm honored to be in the magazine!

Chili Peppers: Aphrodisiac or Cuddle Food?

In a recent comment, MR asked for help tracking down scientific references for the internet wisdom that eating chilis causes a release of oxytocin.

I'd always heard that chili and other spicy foods were good for, um, pepping up your sex drive. Makes intuitive sense: hot chili = hot sex, etc. So far, the only article I found said that injecting capsaicin, the "active" ingredient in chili, under the skin of mice reduced the number of oxytocin and vasopressin-producing neurons in their brains.

I believe the origin of this info is the undated article Hot Lover by Nina Planck. The article is mostly a charming and fun paean to the delights of cooking with chilis -- and eating them raw, in her case! Near the end, she makes the intriguing -- and provocative statement:

"... giving animals capsaicin, the chile drug, causes a massive release of oxytocin, far more than the oxytocin surge from eating just any food."

I emailed Nina, and she kindly responded, saying the info was from unpublished studies by Joseph Verbalis of Georgetown, who studies the role of oxytocin and vasopressin in appetite and water regulation.Paperback_Real_Food_Book

Planck is author of the very popular Real Food: What to Eat and Why. I love her take on food, which is basically, if you eat a variety of natural whole foods, you don't need to worry about what you eat. This is something I've done for years, piling on the butter and chewing the beef fat, and my cholesterol is awesome.

She also advocates for "real birth," that is, natural, non-industrial birth. I'm glad we have such a strong voice for the general goodness of eating and living simply and well.

Now Oxytocin Gets Blamed for Everything

Hans Reiser is a former SF Bay Area technology executive now serving 15 years for second-degree murder, after he accepted a plea bargain and led police to his wife's body.

Why I bring this up is that Reiser, who certainly seems to have a couple fried circuits, wants to appeal his conviction, in part because he thinks his attorney didn't represent him properly. According to Henry K. Lee's San Francisco Chronicle News Blog, Reiser says his attorney, William Du Bois, exhibits symptoms of oxytocin excess. To wit, he enjoys betraying others.

Reiser railed against lead defense attorney William Du Bois, saying the lawyer "seems to match the symptoms for oxytocin excess as described in an article in the Scientific American this year." By way of explanation, Reiser wrote, "Persons with oxytocin excess enjoy betraying others. Mr. Du Bois has an extraordinary facility for engendering trust in others and extraordinary people skills. (This is consistent with high oxytocin). He also very apparently gets a charge from duping and betraying juries who trust him."

This is based on something Paul Zak of Claremont Graduate University's Neuroeconomics Dept. has found: A few people in his studies show very high levels of oxytocin in their blood, and yet instead of being cooperators, they seem to get a charge out of screwing the other person in the economic games they play in Zak's studies.

Nevertheless ... Come on, dude! Get a grip.

Motrin got into hot water with mommy bloggers for a commercial that tried to take a lighter look at one of the acknowledged perils of caring for children: They get heavier and heavier to carry.

First, watch the commercial.

The tone made me uncomfortable, because it sounded like the mom doing the voiceover didn't take mommying that seriously. The voiceover talks about "baby-wearing" as a fashion, and then she says, "Supposedly, it's a real bonding experience."

Um, yes, it is. I know in our society the idea that bonding is something that has to be, well, nurtured hasn't taken hold yet. And anyone is allowed to get pregnant and bring a new life into the world without any prep at all. But still.

As cszamu wrote,

... yes, in its cutesyness and its attempt to sound hip, the ad missed the mark. It managed to sound both patronizing and critical of a childrearing philosophy that women feel passionate about (namely, babywearing).

Obviously, the ad passed muster with internal execs at McNeill Consumer Healthcare, maker of Motrin, including its VP of marketing, who is herself the mother of a three-year-old, according to Lisa Belkin of the NY Times. And the ad agency, too.

I'm glad the mommy bloggers are standing up for informed mothers who are passionate about bonding.

Turning Mares into Foster-Mares

Walnut Hills Farm, a horse breeding operation in Kentucky is using oxytocin to connect foals with foster-mothers while their real mothers are being bred elsewhere.

Not only can unbred mares that have previously had at least one foal be persuaded with medication to produce milk, but the procedure also seems to stimulate maternal behavior, greatly simplifying the tricky process of getting a nurse mare to adopt an orphan foal. For an operation like Walnut Hall, which uses nurse mares routinely, it was a revolutionary idea.

It's nice that they are using rescued horses as the foster mothers, "giving them a new lease on life," as the article in says.

But, hold on a minute, this doesn't mean that we can necessarily improve the attachment of moms and babies with oxytocin. It's more complicated than that. After all, in hospital births, women are routinely given a large amount of pitocin, an oxytocin analog. And if anything, it seems to inhibit the natural attachment process.

See The Mother/Baby Attachment Gap for more on this.

The Chemistry of Connection Book Cover

It's been a really long time coming, and the book has evolved a lot in the four years I've been working on it. It's finally getting close, and here is its first, almost-physical manifestation: the cover.


You can also pre-order it on here:

A Broken Heart Could Turn Off the Oxytocin Response

Some people feel really uncomfortable hearing that neurochemicals, including oxytocin, dopamine and vasopressin, are responsible for some of our most profound emotions. Of course, it's not that simple.

Do neurochemicals create emotions? Or are they just one part of a symphony of events, thoughts and physiological events?

A study by scientists at NYU and Rutgers found that we can consciously

According to Science Daily,  NYU professor Elizabeth Phelps, Rutgers professor Mauricio Delgado and  NYU grad student M. Meredith Gillis, wanted to understand  "emotional regulation strategies"  related to expecting a reward. Emotional regulation  is the process, conscious or unconscious, of  holding our emotions in check. You could call it self-control.

They found that people could easily "turn off" their sense of anticipation of a reward.

The results showed that the participants' emotion regulation strategies could influence physiological and neural responses relevant to the expectation of reward. Specifically, results from the [skin conductance responses] revealed that the subjects' emotion regulation strategies decreased arousal that was linked to the anticipation of a potential reward.

"Our findings demonstrated that emotion regulation strategies can successfully curb physiological and neural responses associated with the expectation of reward," said Delgado.

The researchers want to know how thoughts can curb urges, particularly cravings for addictive drugs.

But how many of us have learned to turn off our expectations for love or happiness? It's natural after a bad breakup to say, "I'll never love again." This research shows that this thought can become self-fulfilling. If we don't expect connection or love, we don't see it when it comes again. Or, we enter the relationship with a defeatist attitude that's unrewarding for us and for our new lover.

Taking it down to the neurochemical level, when that oxytocin feeling comes, we can shut it down without realizing it.

But I think this study also shows that we can do the opposite. It's really really hard, but if we can tell ourselves that we can love again -- or love for the first time some day -- we can make it happen.

Could Oxytocin Have Prevented Our Economic Meltdown?

Bad decisions by bad-boy stock traders. There's plenty of blame to go around for the sorry state of the U.S. economy and financial markets, but people don't often put together the overwhelmingly maleness of Wall Street traders with the testosterone-fueled desire for risk-taking and challenge.

Except for John M. Coates, a research fellow in neuroscience and finance at Cambridge and a former Wall Street trader. I guess that places him in the "neuroeconomics" category. He has a fascinating theory about why males seem

According to this article, stock traders may be the victims of the "winning effect."

When two predators battle it out, the winner emerges with increased testosterone levels; the loser with diminished testosterone.

Fuelled on powerful steroids, the predator picks another fight. He wins again, feels elated and goes after an even stronger opponent. After a few victories, he starts to get sloppy, overconfident and cocky. "Animals continue having successful rounds of winning until they take stupid risks," says Dr Coates.

This next part goes in the "too good to check" file.  According to the  article, by Helen Kirwan-Taylor, when Coates gave 17 London stock traders oxytocin, however, they became calmer and less likely to do something dumb. 

It sure makes sense, and I sure wish it was true. But Dr. Coates told me via email that this detail is false. Can someone please do this study? Please?

This article from the Why Files provides more color. And here's a link to the abstract of his study:
Endogenous steroids and financial risk taking on a London trading floor, John M. Coates and J. Herbert, PNAS, Apr. 22, 2008