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Oxytocin the so-called "love hormone" is being increasingly shown to trigger a wide variety of physical and psychological effects in both women and men.
The hormone's influence on our behavior and physiology originates in the brain, where it's produced by the by a structure called the hypothalamus, and then transfers to the pituitary gland which releases into the bloodstream.. Like antennas picking up a signal, oxytocin receptors are found on cells throughout the body. Levels of the hormone tend to be higher during both stressful and socially bonding experiences, according to the American Psychological Association.
"It's like a hormone of attachment, you might say," said Carol Rinkleib Ellison, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Loomis, California and former assistant clinical psychiatry professor at the University of California, San Francisco. "It creates feelings of calm and closeness."
Thought scientists have long known about oxytocin's rolein breastfeeding and childbirth, "We're just learning more about it now," Ellison said.
A stream of studies in the last decade have focused on oxytocin's effects on body and mind. Here's a look at what we've learned.
Oxytocin promotes attachmentSlide 2 of 23
Oxytocin promotes attachment
Pregnant women with higher levels of oxytocin during their first trimester bonded more strongly with their babies after they were born, according to a 2007 study in the journal Psychological Science. And compared with other women, women with higher levels throughout their pregnancy and in the first month after birth reported engaging in more behaviors such as singing, feeding and bathing their infants in specific ways that promoted an exclusive relationship between the two, the study found.Slide 3 of 23
Oxytocin solidifies relationshipsSlide 4 of 23
Oxytocin solidifies relationships
Comparing urine levels of oxytocin and a related hormone called vasopressin in biological and adoptive children who lived in Russian and Romanian orphanages, researchers found that oxytocin rose in biological children after having contact with their mothers. The study, published in 2005 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that oxytocin levels remained static in the adoptive children in the same situation, suggesting a physiological basis for why some adoptive children have difficulty forming secure relationships.Slide 5 of 23
Oxytocin eases stressSlide 6 of 23
Oxytocin eases stress
Research done on prairie voles showed that those separated from their siblings exhibited signs of anxiety, stress and depression that abated after they were injected with oxytocin. The study, presented at a 2007 meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, indicated the hormone's effects were more evident under stressful situations.Slide 7 of 23
Oxytocin crystallizes emotional memoriesSlide 8 of 23