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Thursday, January 05, 2006Last month I wrote about a new study that shows that oxytocin, the hormone released during breastfeeding, has been shown to reduce fear. While I jokingly noted that any breastfeeding mom knew this, (you have to be brave to offer up a nipple to a small child with teeth) another story has come out that talks about the potential for oxytocin as a treatment for certain types of mental disorders.
The Boston Globe featured a story around Christmas titled "Feeling shy, afraid of strangers? Hormone under study may help" that looks at the research from the angle of how it might help people that suffer from anything from "from crippling shyness to autism and schizophrenia."
From the article:
Researchers now report that they can boost oxytocin in the human brain using a nasal spray. And when they do, trust seems to rise and social fear seems to abate, raising the possibility that oxytocin-based drugs might eventually help people with mental illnesses that involve exaggerated fear of others, from crippling shyness to autism and schizophrenia.
This month, Meyer-Lindenberg and others reported in The Journal of Neuroscience that when young men snorted oxytocin -- allowing it to cross the blood-brain barrier -- brain scans showed that fear centers became less responsive to threatening faces.
And this summer, the journal Nature published research showing that when subjects played a game that hinged on trust, those who had snorted oxytocin were much likelier to trust other players than those who had not.
The two studies fit nicely together and with other recent research, said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health and one of the pioneers in research on oxytocin and rodent bonding. For example, he said, brain scans suggest that the fear centers in the brains of autistic people are hypersensitive in social situations, so perhaps oxytocin could help quiet them.
The article goes on to talk about the new interest in studying the effects of oxytocin and plans by pharmaceutical companies like Wyeth to harness the powers of the hormone to treat anxiety disorders. The downside of the experiments is that dosage needs are large. Humans within the study needed to inhale the equivalent of three teaspoons of Oxytocin up their noses to see a notable different. That has led to discussion of creating a pill form of the drug that could be prescribed.
The biggest side effect was that roughly twenty percent of the men involved in the study had erections and that it could trigger contractions in pregnant women. The impact that oxytocin has on trust and sexual arousal has led some critics to claim that a drug version of the hormone could be used as a type of date-rape drug.
More palatable suggested uses include treatment of mothers that have difficulty bonding with their babies, or use on abused children that deal with severe psychological and trust issues.
It's a very interesting article and the potential here is intriguing.
Labels: Stats and Studies