Oxytocin makes individuals feel calmer and dampens effect on fear receptor in the brain

"My husband of thirty-five years passed away seven years ago, and I lost my daughter in a car accident last year, I honestly could no longer find the energy to smile or laugh," recounts sixty-year-old widow Opal Perry. "My son suggested I try a new hormone being touted to help with symptoms of depression, called oxytocin. After the second day I was driving and caught myself smiling in the mirror. I couldn't believe it. I had to do a double take. I hadn't really smiled in seven years! I thought I would never smile again until now."

It has been called everything from the cuddle hormone, to the hormone that makes love possible. Oxytocin, whose role has for years been limited to labor and delivery, is now gaining unprecedented levels of attention for its powerful symptom-reducing properties for such common disorders as depression, autism, and even schizophrenia.

"They had no clue that it also affects our emotions," says Chemistry of Connection author Susan Kuchinskas. "What they've discovered is that the oxytocin released into the brain can calm down the amygdala, calm down the fight or flight response and at the same time, activate parts of the brain to create social memories." Several studies have now confirmed that prolonged exposure to stress can create both an overactive stress response and a diminished oxytocin response. This in turn creates a negative feedback loop, which can leave people such as Opal feeling depressed or anxious for long periods of time with seemingly little relief beyond side-effect riddled anti-depressants. Opal exclaimed, "Anti-depressants caused my mouth to be constantly dry, made sleep difficult, and gave me constant headaches. The side effects were worse than any positive results."

Expresses Kuchinskas, "What seems to be happening is that when oxytocin is released, it makes the individual feel calmer. When I have oxytocin, I'm not afraid of you. In fact, I'm more open to connecting with you." And this is where the reduction of autism symptoms comes into play. Due to its powerful dampening effect on the fear receptor in the brain, oxytocin can permit individuals with autism-related disabilities to recognize facial signals, thus increase social interactions, a common challenge of the disorder.




The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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