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Is Oxytocin the Real Love Potion?

Oxytocin is a hormone made of amino acids that are regularly produced in mammals. It has been shown to play a part in sexual interactions and in childbirth. Oxytocin production comes from the pituitary gland and, from there, travels to the reproductive organs. It is thought that oxytocin encourages the mother-child bond immediately after birth, as well as forces the uterus back to retract back to its original size and the breasts to begin delivering milk after the baby is born.

Pitocin, a synthetic version of oxytocin, is occasionally administered to mothers who are stuck in labor as a way to force the uterus to contract and deliver the baby.

Other research reveals that the hormone also reduces inflammation and encourages the healing of wounds, especially after the individual interacts socially with others. Some suggest that the ability of a person to socialize actually makes them healthier than people who remain disconnected from others.

It turns out, however, that oxytocin acts not only at the site of reproductive organs but also in the brain. A recent study found that after ingesting oxytocin, men who were in committed relationships physically distanced themselves from other women they found to be attractive. Single men showed no such restraint. This has led scientists to the conclusion that the body uses oxytocin to encourage fidelity. One possible way to explain this phenomenon might be that the hormone causes a person to feel content in their current romantic relationship and, thus, they feel no compulsion to evaluate others as potential mates.

Given the leading role that oxytocin seems to play in issues surrounding sex, love, and intimacy, scientists suspect that failure to produce enough of the substance may lead to personality disorders and may even play a role in autism spectrum disorders. Studies show that speech and emotions of autistic adults improved after they were given oxytocin, as did the rate of occurrence of habitual behavior.

Although our bodies make oxytocin routinely, those who fail to produce enough of the hormone can benefit from ingestion of a synthetically produced version, such as Pitocin. When sprayed into the nasal cavity, oxytocin is able to breach the blood-brain barrier in a way that IV oxytocin cannot.