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Oxytocin — the “hug hormone”

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Oxytocin is a powerful neuropeptide hormone secreted by the posterior pituitary gland. It acts mainly as a neuromodulator in the brain. It plays an important role in social bonding and intimacy among mammals, and is released during and after childbirth, having an influence on maternal bonding.

Labelled the “hug hormone”, it plays a crucial part in the formation and strengthening of social relations, as well as staving off various psychological and physiological problems.

Studies carried out on wild chimpanzees measured the urine levels of oxytocin after single episodes of single co-operative behaviour, such as mutual grooming. It was found that oxytocin levels increased for both parties, not only among family members, but also among non-related individuals. However, the increases were greater when grooming was carried out with a “bond partner”, ie, one with which they already shared a co-operative relationship.

More recent studies at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig measured urinary oxytocin levels after chimpanzees had shared food with each other. They found that oxytocin levels were elevated in both the donor and recipient, and to a much higher degree than in the more common act of grooming. The levels after food sharing were also higher than when food was simply eaten in a social setting. This suggests that the act of food sharing has a stronger social bonding effect, and it has been linked to the same neurobiological mechanisms that evolved to strengthen the mother-offspring bond during lactation.

It is thought that oxytocin is a major factor in the ability of humans to form long-term co-operative relationships between unrelated individuals, one of the main reasons for the species’ extraordinary biological success.

Studies into post-traumatic stress disorder showed that after oxytocin, men were more likely to describe their emotions following past traumatic events, rather than simply talking about these events. This emotional disclosure is thought to be critical in coming to terms with trauma and moving on, and it is hoped that oxytocin could be an important part of the treatment for sufferers.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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