Previous month:
April 2010
Next month:
June 2010

Oxytocin Inhalant Helps Chronic Headache

Trigemina announced the results of a small clinical trial of intranasal oxytocin for headache. Twenty-five patients  with chronic daily headache who didn't get relief from any available remedies received either oxytocin or a placebo.

While 47 percent of people treated with oxytocin reported at least a 50 percent reduction in pain, only 11 percent of those getting the placebo got relief.

According to the press release, Trigemina researchers don't think it's as simple as oxytocin opening up blood vessels in the head.  Instead, inhalants seem to be able to deliver medication to the trigeminal nerve and other parts of the central nervous system.

According to the company, "Trigemina, Inc. exploits a newly discovered pathway that allows for targeting of the trigeminal nerves and central nervous system, allowing direct access to pain mediating sites and minimizing off-target side effects. Trigemina’s drug development pipeline includes intranasal oxytocin (TI-001) and TI-002, which may offer an alternative for the massive opiate market."

Testosterone Makes Women Less Trusting

Another study shows how the mix of neurochemicals and sex hormones contribute to behavioral differences in men and women.

We've seen how oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, makes men more trusting.  Jack van Honk, a psychologist at Cape Town University, gave oral testosterone to women in their 20s and then asked them to rate photos of strangers' faces. It's interesting that he used a pill placed under the tongue, and rather surprising that a single oral dose would influence brain activity. But there you go.

At any rate, according to The Telegraph

Historically for women it was important to be co-operative and sociable in order to survive whereas for men it was more important to be able to fight.

Men therefore evolved with more testosterone than women in order to make them bigger, stronger and more aggressive. It also seems to have made them more wary and to constantly "watch their back" for danger. 

The testosterone dose may actually have increased the effects of vasopressin, a chemical that's close to oxytocin in structure and strongly influenced by testosterone. In animals, vasopressin increases mate guarding and vigilance.

Could Pitocin During Labor Program Oxytocin Receptors?

Many natural birth activists believe that the heavy dose of Pitocin, a brand of synthetic oxytocin, can program the oxytocin receptors in the baby's brain to be less sensitive to oxytocin.

There have not been any journal articles or studies to back this up. But a new report showing that exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals can program the fetus for life provides a link.

According to Newswise, prenatal exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA) and diethylstilbestrol (DES) altered production of a protein that helps to regulate genes. This alteration remained into adulthood.

“BPA is a weak estrogen and DES is a strong estrogen, yet our study shows both have a profound effect on gene expression in the mammary gland (breast) throughout life,” said Hugh Taylor, MD, of the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. and lead author of the study. “All estrogens, even ‘weak’ ones can alter the development of the breast and ultimately place adult women who were exposed to them prenatally at risk of breast cancer.”

The study found a new way that external chemicals can regulate tissue development. Perhaps a similar mechanism could change the expression and sensitivity of oxytocin receptors?

Other posts covering this question:

Studying the relationship between Pitocin, labor and behavior

The Case for Harm from Pitocin in Labor

Humans: Bonobos or Prairie Voles?

My new Facebook friend, Tinamarie Bernard Eshel, writes about sex, spirituality, and earth stewardship.

On the blog Green Prophet, she recently wrote Monkey Love: When females rule fornication, Mother Earth delights. It's a terrific and thought-provoking post, and you should read it.

Her thesis:

The bonobos have found the solution to world peace. It’s called love. Whenever there is a dispute, they resolve it with a good bout of nooky. A bit of masturbation here, a little tickle where it feels really good there, and soon enough the tension is relieved. Have a problem? Not after you’ve had sex, bonobo style.

And if you have any doubt about female satisfaction, rest assured that these apes know how to swing. Wink wink, nod nod, grunt grunt, sigh. In fact, in their natural habitats, Bonobos have rarely demonstrated hostile or violent behaviors towards another.

I began to comment on her blog, and decided instead to post it here.

I completely agree with Tinamarie that you can't have too much sex. Sex is the emotional glue that holds couples together, and it satisfies our physical and emotional cravings for connection while tuning up our bodies for maximum health.

That said, even though we share 97 percent of our dna with the bonobo, this does not mean that we are like them socially. Biologists estimate that approximately 3 percent of mammals are monogamous, and they seem to share a quirk of brain structure that places receptors for both dopamine, the neurochemical of reward-seeking and reward, close to receptors for oxytocin, the neurochemical of attachment, trust, generosity and love, in the parts of the brain that handle social interactions.

This difference makes the prairie vole monogamous, even though it is genetically very close to its polyamorous cousin, the mountain vole. Humans do seem to share this monogamous brain structure.

This does NOT mean that humans or any other monogamous mammal is wired to copulate ONLY with one mate. In fact, they've found that as many as 45 percent of "monogamous" male prairie voles never mate, while in monogamous bird species, some 25 percent of offspring are the result of extra-pair copulation.

We seem to be wired to live in a stable family with a long-term, and possibly life-long, mate, with the possibility of other sexual partners for both sexes. Unfortunately, in our highly civilized culture, we have robust social conventions for romance, friendship and property rights that make it quite difficult to be as free as the bonobos.

I think where the ideals of polyamory may lead us astray is when we focus on the amory part and forget about creating a stable mate relationship. I firmly believe that this mate/family structure may take many forms outside of the traditional nuclear family -- in fact, I think it should.

However, without a home and family to come home to, the polyamorist risks falling into a tangle of unsatisfying relationships that may provide lots of dopamine highs without the next of trust and connection that comes from oxytocin.

I think women can be especially at risk in a polyamorous playground, because our higher estrogen causes us to respond more strongly to oxytocin, making sex feel more bonding to us. 

All that said, sex -- no matter who or how many we enjoy it with -- does make us calmer, less anxious and more open and trusting. That's got to be good for the planet.

Even a Phone Call Can Boost Oxytocin

This is a really neat study, reported by MSNBC.  Like a lot of the human oxytocin studies, it validates something that feels true already. In fact, this study, by Seth Pollak at the University of Wisconsin, validates a couple things:

First, talking to your mom on the phone can be just as powerful as being cuddled in person. Second, that technology-mediated interactions can feel just as "real" as face-to-face.

In the study, girls 7 to 12 years old had to solve math problems in front of judges, a stress-producing situation. Afterward, one group of girls got together with their moms for hugs and kisses. A second group called their mothers on the phone for verbal reassurance. The third group watched a heart-warming movie. 

The researchers measured the girls' blood levels of cortisol and oxytocin before the math and again after the cool-down. They found higher oxytocin and lower cortisol not only in girls who got cuddles but also in the girls who talked to their mothers on the phone.

According to MSNBC's Linda Carroll,

The study results may not apply to every mother-child pair. Pollak allows that when relationships are more complicated and there is tension involved, mom’s voice might not be so soothing.

“The reason we chose pre-pubertal children is that, for the most part, they still really do like to be comforted by their parents. As kids get older the relationship can get more complicated and strained.”

Pollak says he’d like to explore the effects of a mom’s voice in those complicated relationships in future research.

No kidding. I think my mother's voice probably would raise my cortisol levels.