In 1906, the English researcher Sir Henry Dale discovered a substance in the pituitary gland that could speed up the birthing process. He named it oxytocin from the Greek words for “quick” and “child labor”. Later, he found that it also promoted the expulsion of breast milk. Now it appears that oxytocin plays a much larger physiological role than previously recognized, since under many circumstances, it has the ability to produce the effects that we associate with the state of calm and connection (Moberg 2003).
What is it Useful For?
In the article Central nervous system actions of oxytocin and modulation of behavior in humans, published in Molecular Medicine Today, June 1997, researcher Margaret McCarthy pointed out, “A continuous stress response can ultimately be deleterious and reducing the reaction under appropriate circumstances has substantial advantages.”
Chronic stress hinders the healthy and natural production of oxytocin in the brain. Such experiences are what lead cellular biologist and author of The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton, to state that 98% of diseases and disorders can be attributed to stress in the autonomic nervous system. When this occurs the ability to relax after everyday stressful events becomes increasingly difficult. After a period of time, such experiences cause prolonged anxiety, emotional overwhelm, and in some instances, depression. Furthermore, reduced oxytocin has even been found in the brains of adult survivors of abuse. A study of 22 healthy women revealed that those with moderate to severe exposure to childhood abuse or neglect had lower concentrations of oxytocin in their CSF fluid as compared to those who reported no or mild abuse. CSF oxytocin levels were also inversely proportional to the severity and duration, as well as current anxiety ratings, with a particular strong correlation seen in cases of emotional abuse (Heim et al. 2008)
Oxytocin plays a vital role in promoting factors that enhance well-being. First, Oxytocin plays a critical role at enhancing factors within the individual which promote well-being. Oxytocin induces increase in level of trust and reduction of fear through modulating the response of amygdala and other central structures to stress and fear. Oxytocin increases approach and pro-social behavior and enhances social interactions, as evidenced by human and animal studies. Oxytocin reduces subjective sense of anxiety, increases overall calm and is implicated in non-verbal intelligence. Oxytocin is also implicated in many physiological effects,
including reduction in free cortisol levels, blood pressure, analgesia and pro-wound healing.
Secondly, its effects extend to promote factors that are favorable to well-being at the interpersonal level. Oxytocin plays a key role in both the consummatory and the reward aspect of sexual behavior. Oxytocin levels correlate positively with enhanced sexual behavior, intensity of feelings of romantic love, as well as mother–infant bonding. Conversely, its dysfunction is implicated in Neuropsychiatric conditions. Exogenous (Having a cause external to the body) Oxytocin decreases persistent fear and over-activation of amygdala as observed in patients with schizophrenia and related disorders. Oxytocin use also decreases repetitive behavior and improves response to social cues in autism and dysfunction of Oxytocin receptors as a risk factor in development of Autism. Oxytocin levels are reduced in those with chronic depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and in post traumatic stress disorder. (IsHak, et al. 2010).