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December 2009
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February 2010

NY Mag Gives Props to Dog Love

In a New York Magazine article exploring just how goofy some of us get about our dogs (I'm guilty!), John Homan explores the basis of that love, which is, of course, oxytocin.

If you click through from Andrew Sullivan's blog on The Daily Dish, you'll get right to the oxytocin part, which has been highlighted. Slick!

I always advise people that stroking a dog -- yours or someone else's -- is a great way to get an instant oxytocin boost.

Oxytocin No Longer the "Shy Hormone"

with Jasvir Singh

Thinking about oxytocin, once known as the shy hormone, has made a 360 degree turn. Michel Odent, a practitioner who introduced the concept of birthing pools and focuses on the long-term consequences of early experiences, writes that oxytocin is now showing up as the social hormone.


Odent claims that since the discovery of oxytocin a century ago by Henry Dale, we have been trying to understand its effects. Through the combination of various experiments and observations, oxytocin came to be known as the “shy hormone” (maybe before it became the "cuddle hormone"), because it resembled a shy person who does not appear in the presence of strangers or observers.


Couples would isolate themselves to make love, as if they knew the shy hormone would be released. Women would isolate themselves during breastfeeding and childbirth for the same reason. Women would protect the birthing experience from men as if they knew that oxytocin was shyer in a male than in a female environment.


However, this slowly changed, according to Odent. Not only have we forgotten that oxytocin is a shy hormone, but furthermore we are sending the opposite message. It is now encouraged to have coaches and support teams in birthing rooms; privacy is no longer a priority. We’ve reversed most of our ideas and are promoting a new generation of studies about oxytocin release.


This new generation of studies seems to make sense, though. We had to wait until the 1970s to discover that a newborn human baby needs its mother. . We’ve learned that the germs of the mother should be the first to colonize the baby’s body. Ad we know that mothering actually influences the sensitivity and distribution of oxytocin receptors in the baby's body.


You can read Odent’s entire article here:


For more information on Michel Odent, visit

Pillow Talk for Kids

with Jasvir Singh

Not enough time to nurture your children in the day?  Nurture them in their sleep as well.  

We are not born knowing how to love—the kind of mothering we get shapes our oxytocin response. How many oxytocin receptors the baby brain develops depends on the nurturing, love and intimacy the baby gets in the first months of life. These days, parents are often so busy that it can be difficult to give their child the amount of love they need.

According to Nancy Beck, a good way to nurture a child is through pillow talk—a message you can deliver while you’re child is sleeping.  Beck, BSN, RN, developed a book called "Pillow Talk: Loving Affirmations to Encourage and Guide Your Children," that explains this unique parenting skill. She says that pillow talk is an effective and easy way to infuse children with love while they are asleep.

She explains how to give your child life- and love-affirming messages that will remind him or her that your loving presence is constant.

Beck's concept is not the same as subliminal learning; nor is it a form of brainwashing.  Pillow talk will not override a child’s free will. It shouldn’t be used to convince a child to do anything or alter their thoughts---rather, she says, it is there to support one’s nurturing parenting skills day and night. Pillow talk can help your child develop a strong oxytocin response that allows them to grow up to be more confident, less worried, and connect with others more deeply. You can view Nancy’s article on Pillow Talk and find out about her book on her website,

Sometimes, a hard-working parent can't even get home in time to spend an affectionate hour or two while kids are awake. Nancy's book reminds us that we can  help shape a healthy oxytocin response and build a strong bond with our children at any time of day or night.

The Peptide That Binds: Overview of Human Research

UC Berkeley researchers just published a review of human oxytocin studies in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. Behavioral Health Central has a brief report. In a nutshell:

The researchers concluded: "Key conclusions are (1) human research with intranasal oxytocin has uniquely enhanced our understanding of the microstructure and function of the human social brain, and (2) the oxytocin system is a promising target for therapeutic interventions in a variety of conditions, especially those characterized by anxiety and aberrations in social function."

The paper is called The peptide that binds: a systematic review of oxytocin and its prosocial effects in humans.

Love: The Cure for Damaged Heart?

Recent research found that injecting oxytocin under the skin helped rats with damaged hearts repair cells and improve function, thanks to oxytocin's anti-inflammatory properties.

Dr. Mercola (who doesn't seem to use a first name) riffs on this, reminding us that we don't need to huff or inject the good stuff to get the benefits. I don't think we're so different than rats, so it probably does work for us, as well.

Another View of "Christmas Miracle" Baby

Many of us had an oxytocin moment contemplating the despair and joy experienced by Mike Hermanstorfer, the Colorado Springs man whose wife and baby died in childbirth, but were revived.

Jasmine Jafferali points out that the focus on this ultimate happy outcome overshadows the fact that the bad part of the story is an all-too-common scenario: 

Knowing the side effects of both pitocin and the epidural, Hermanstorfer's history of having unmedicated births, she probably experienced a dropped heartrate from the pitocin which may have caused her cardiac arrest upon administering the epidural. We all like the story of hearing "miracles" and they do happen, however, we have to know a little more about modern medicine and the side effects and dangers of modern drugs.

She details the known side effects of epidural drugs and Pitocin (the artificial oxytocin used to speed labor) on mother and baby. Her tacit conclusion is that while it's a miracle this mom and baby survived, it's a tragedy that so many are injured in hospital births. 

Maybe this miracle never needed to happen.