Research in neuroscience points to the fact that the neuropeptide called oxytocin is one of the most important chemicals when it comes to inducing the feeling of love in human beings. Other research also suggests that it is the very same hormone that is at work in maternal love, and even in eating disorders.
As of now, we do not know much about exactly how oxytocin influences human behavior – both negative and positive. What we do know though, is that oxytocin in the brain is what is responsible for social, maternal, sexual and feeding impulses in all animals, including human beings.
Oxytocin, popularly known as the cuddle hormone, is used to induce or speed up labor. The hormone stimulates the uterus to contract. It is the very same hormone that causes lactation. Oxytocin is also produced naturally in the body in response to various environmental stimuli.
Researchers now suggest that administering oxytocin into the human body may cause harm, primarily because not much is known about exactly how this hormone affects social behavior and to what extent. Oxytocin therapy may have far reaching consequences for mothers and the way they bond with their children.
We know that oxytocin encourages social bonding. When it interacts with estrogen, testosterone and progesterone, it affects human behavior in a significant way. Through animal studies, we learn that oxytocin is crucial for the mother to bond with her child. When the naturally released oxytocin was suppresses in female rats, they were found to reject their young. Similarly, when oxytocin was injected into the bodies of other rats (who were not biological mothers), they were found to bond with the rat pups like they were their own.
Too much of oxytocin is not necessarily a good thing. The cuddle hormone is suspected to be the culprit behind certain pathological conditions like overeating or inappropriate bonding behavior such as pedophilia.
Structure of Oxytocin
Oxytocin is a nanopeptide – it is a peptide comprising nine amino acids.
Neurophysin is the carrier protein of oxytocin. Vasopressin, another hormone that is significant in social behaviour and pair bonding in humans, is also a nanopeptide. They differ just by 2 amino acids.
Oxytocin is made in the posterior pituitary gland and released into the blood. In the gland, the oxytocin is packed in the vesicles and is bound to neurophysin.
Cells containing oxytocin have also been found outside the brain – in the corpus luteum, placenta, pancreas, thymus, retina and the adrenal medulla. Not much is known about how the hormone affects these different tissues.
By: Nisha S.