Oxytocin: The Goddess Molecule

We're hearing a lot about the Higgs boson particle, aka the god molecule. In a new article in Sun Goddess magazine, I propose that oxytocin is the goddess molecule.

Of course, oxytocin is just as important to men. But we women, likely because of the enhancing effects of estrogen on oxytocin, seem to be more important contributors to an oxytocin-enriched society.

Please check out the article:

Oxytocin: The Goddess Molecule

Elvis: The King of Oxytocin

5255904360_3f942aa811Need an oxytocin rush? Let Elvis Presley get those juices flowing.

Williams Syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by medical problems and developmental disabilities, on the downside, as well as striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music, according to the Williams Syndrome Association.

In a study of 21 people, 13 with Williams Syndrome (WS) and a control, led by Julie R. Korenberg, Ph.D., M.D., University of Utah/USTAR professor, Circuits of the Brain and pediatrics, the people with WS had three times as much oxytocin circulating in their blood as the control group. (Thus, the highly social aspect of the syndrome.)

The researchers drew additional blood several times during the experiment, to measure changes in levels of oxytocin and vasopressin as the participants listened to music. One participant was asked to listen to Elvis' "Love Me Tender." The others listened to tunes of their choice.

According to the University of Utah,

The analyses showed that the oxytocin levels, and to a lesser degree AVP, had not only increased but begun to bounce among WS participants while among those without WS, both the oxytocin and AVP levels remained largely unchanged as they listened to music. Interestingly, the oxytocin level in the woman who’d listened to “Love Me Tender” skyrocketed compared to the levels of participants who listened to different music.

Elvis is the king of that swarmy, dreamy feeling, and evidently, that feeling comes from oxytocin.

I'd bet that neurotypical folks would show a similar increase in oxytocin when listening to Elvis Presley -- or other emotionally stirring music, albeit not such a marked increase. To me, this study validates another of those oxytocin memes that just make intuitive sense, that music that delights us would elevate our oxytocin levels.

Illustration: Luiz Fernando/Sonia Maria

Love My Vagus Nerve

6212291122_666fa9df53_mIf you're a fan of neurochemistry and oxytocin, you probably know about the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for fight-or-flight type responses, and the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for calm-and-connection responses.

Marsha Lucas, PhD, wrote an excellent article explaining the polyvagal theory put forth by Stephen Porges, PhD (husband and colleague of Sue Carter, one of the primary oxytocin researchers).

She writes,

His polyvagal theory suggests that there are three circuits (not just two branches), which drive one of three possible responses, depending on how we sense the relative safety, danger, or threat to life in our bodies. ... if the [amygdala's] assessment is that the incoming information indicates that things are safe, a third part of the circuit (the ventral vagus) essentially “turns off” the fight-flight response, and social engagement can happen – a calm state that supports being connected with others. Being in this state allows for better health, growth, and communication.

I've been a fan of the vagus nerve since writing Chemistry of Connection. It's a primary conduit of oxytocin from the brain to the gut and genitals, and it's likely responsible for the connection we feel between food and love. And it may be responsible for that feeling of oneness and connectedness that psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls "elevation."

Read Marsha's article for an excellent explanation of how the amygdala works and what we can experience when we feel safe. Marsha does not mention oxytocin, but, when she writes, "When the ventral vagus is “on”, we have a greater capacity to really listen, in a tuned-in way, to others," that's the effect of oxytocin traveling along this nerve.

To read more:

The Amazing Vagus Nerve

Let Us Elevate Together

The full article by Marcia Lucas is posted on Lisa Kift's blog.

Photo by eljay

What Is Oxytocin Factor?

People always ask me, "Where can I get some oxytocin?" I always tell them to generate their own. A new product on the market actually contains oxytocin.

Moreover, I have a lot of respect for Bryan Post, the person who developed the product and acts as neutriceutical director for ABC Neutriceuticals.

Bryan Post is a psychologist who does ground-breaking work with families of kids who have severe behavior problems, mostly as the result of early trauma from adoption or spending time in the foster system.

His approach takes into account the dynamics of the whole family, recognizing that a parent's anger or inability to connect can further traumatize the child. Post was himself an adopted and disruptive child. At the Post Institute for Family-Centered Therapy and in workshops around the country, he helps parents learn to provide the brain-shaping experiences their children missed.

I talked to Bryan about how he developed the product, what's in it, how stable it is, whether it's really legal to sell, and why he thinks it's safe. These are all questions you should ask about any supplement or product.

I'm not ready to endorse this product, but if you decide to buy it, here is my affiliate link: https://abcnutri1.infusionsoft.com/go/home/kuchinsk/

I'm afraid my voice in this is a bit warbly (thanks, Skype!) but Bryan's is clear.

Bryan Post 3-23-12ED

Revolt Brewing Over Pets in Dorms?

539325280_ba106b6568_mI was miserably lonely in college and sneaked a puppy into my dorm the spring of sophomore year. (That dog stayed with me until she died 14 years later.) So I can relate to Kendra Velzen, who is suing her college for telling her to get rid of her guinea pig.*

According to Courthouse News Service,

   "The presence of an emotional support animal provides Ms. Velzen with continued emotional support and attachment (thereby reducing symptoms of depression), physiological benefits (such as decreased heart rate), and psychological benefits (such as increased Oxytocin levels, which directly impact the sense of life satisfaction)," the complaint states.
     Velzen says the college allows physically impaired students to keep service dogs and nonpredatory fish in their dorm rooms.

This is the second such case to be in the news this year. See also, Dogs in Dorms an Antidote to Stress?

For some of us, pets can provide a substitute source of connection and oxytocin. For other people (like me) a pet can be the first living being we really connect with. It can be downright cruel to prohibit them at school.

*PS My first furry pets were guinea pigs -- my parents wouldn't let me have a dog.

PPS Guinea pigs are adorable and make great pets; some people eat them.

PHOTO: joffreylacoeur

Oxytocin Likely the Basis of Animal Friendships

Friendships are adaptive for animals, and they probably feel good, thanks to oxytocin. That's the gist of this article from Science News. I've certainly seen dogs who were best friends, and, of course, with animals in the wild, especially monkeys, those who cooperate in childcare and food-sharing are likely to survive longer and rear more offspring.

The article summarizes several research projects that try to correlate oxytocin to "friendly" behaviors.

With all the research on the effects of oxytocin in humans, this seems like an example of science working its way backwards from people to monkeys. But I am always happy to see science that helps illuminate that animals have emotions like we do.



Do Dogs Need to Inhale Oxytocin?

When I was a kid, dogs were happy bundles of love. Today, at least in Berkeley, a lot of them are grouchy, neurotic and fearful. Monash University's Animal Welfare Science Centre will study whether inhalilng oxytocin can make shelter dogs more adoptable.

When I researched my book, The Chemistry of Connection, I found strong evidence that the oxytocin response is shaped by early postnatal experience. I don't see why this would not be the case with dogs, as well. If a puppy doesn't get lots of love and attention from its human caretaker after it's separated from its dog mother, it may not learn to bond well with humans.

While some dogs at a shelter have a strong drive to connect with the humans to visit, coming to the bars and wagging their tales, others cower in the back or bark defensively. Not surprisingly, these are the dogs most likely to be put down after a few days.

Researcher Jessica Oliva will start a trial of 80 shelter dogs to see whether having a dog inhale oxytocin as it leaves the shelter with its new owner can increase the likelihood they will bond -- and decrease the likelihood of the dog being returned.

While I advocate that humans take the time to rebuild a healthy oxytocin response naturally, these dogs don't have that much time.

I might advocate that the adopting humans in the study also get a snort of oxytocin.

People, Pets and Oxytocin

NPR had a nice story on therapy animals, pointing out how bonding with an animal feels safer and can improve our ability to bond with people.

If you read my blog regularly or have heard me speak, you know that I think animals are one of the best ways "in" to connection. I first experienced love when I got a puppy.

It can be scary to try to connect with a human being -- and traumatic if the relationship fails. Animals are non-judgmental and easy to give to and receive from.

Air Force Testing Oxytocin as "Trust Level"

Can levels of oxytocin in the blood indicate how trustworthy you are? The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB will spend $1 million to try to find out.

Air Force psychologist James Christensen is monitoring the blood oxytocin levels of research subjects as they play economic trust games. According to John Nolan of the Springfield News-Sun, Christensen is not so much looking at whether high oxytocin equals more trustworthiness, but rather at whether there are fluctuations in oxytocin levels when someone is about to betray trust.



Romantic Movies Warm You Up

A  study found that people who drank cold tea were more likely to choose a romantic movie than those who quaffed hot tea.

Researchers Jiewen Hong (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) and Yacheng Sun (University of Colorado, Boulder) also analyzed movie rental data from an unnamed online movie rental company to back up the findings.

They hypothesize that a physical chill causes us to crave psychological warmth. But let's not forget that the body and mind are connected.

Part of oxytocin's phsyical effects are increasing relaxation and blood flow, which would physically warm you up as the romantic movie causes your brain to release oxytocin.