Can 'love hormone' oxytocin protect against addiction?

March 19, 2014, University of Adelaide
Credit: University of Adelaide

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers at the University of Adelaide say addictive behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse could be associated with poor development of the so-called "love hormone" system in our bodies during early childhood.

The groundbreaking idea has resulted from a review of worldwide research into , known as the "love hormone" or "bonding drug" because of its important role in enhancing social interactions, maternal behaviour and partnership.

This month's special edition of the international journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior deals with the current state of research linking oxytocin and addiction, and has been guest edited by Dr Femke Buisman-Pijlman (pronounced: FEM-ka BAUS-men PILL-men) from the University of Adelaide's School of Medical Sciences.

Dr Buisman-Pijlman, who has a background in both addiction studies and family studies, says some people's lack of resilience to addictive behaviours may be linked to poor development of their oxytocin systems.

"We know that newborn babies already have levels of oxytocin in their bodies, and this helps to create the all-important bond between a mother and her child. But our oxytocin systems aren't fully developed when we're born – they don't finish developing until the age of three, which means our systems are potentially subject to a range of influences both external and internal," Dr Buisman-Pijlman says.

She says the oxytocin system develops mainly based on experiences.

"The main factors that affect our oxytocin systems are genetics, gender and environment. You can't change the genes you're born with, but environmental factors play a substantial role in the development of the oxytocin system until our systems are fully developed," Dr Buisman-Pijlman says.

"Previous research has shown that there is a high degree of variability in people's . We're interested in how and why people have such differences in oxytocin, and what we can do about it to have a beneficial impact on people's health and wellbeing," she says.

She says studies show that some risk factors for drug addiction already exist at four years of age. "And because the hardware of the oxytocin system finishes developing in our bodies at around age three, this could be a critical window to study. Oxytocin can reduce the pleasure of drugs and feeling of stress, but only if the system develops well."

Her theory is that adversity in early life is key to the impaired development of the oxytocin system. "This adversity could take the form of a difficult birth, disturbed bonding or abuse, deprivation, or severe infection, to name just a few factors," Dr Buisman-Pijlman says.

"Understanding what occurs with the oxytocin system during the first few years of life could help us to unravel this aspect of and use that knowledge for treatment and prevention."

Explore further: Oxytocin may treat abdominal pain

More information: Paper: www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00913057/119

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4 comments

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RobertKarlStonjek
5 / 5 (1) Mar 20, 2014
Oxytocin is not a Love hormone but a hormone associated with the warm feelings one experiences when in close to or when thinking about a highly favoured individual in a positive way.

How high is the oxytocin in a person holding a child that has just died? Are they feeling ecstatic or do they no longer love the baby? How high is oxytocin when love is unrequited? Suicide due to Love is very common and this behaviour is not typical of people enjoying high levels of oxytocin.

When we are children we think that money means happiness because having or getting money means that you can spend it and you are happy. Only as adults do we realise that money can bring unhappiness, misery, war, suicide and other suffering. Love is the same in this regard. But why have so many people failed to grow up and face the reality which is Love?
JVK
1.7 / 5 (3) Apr 01, 2014
Everything known about hormone-organized and hormone-activated behavior in invertebrates and vertebrates links the epigenetic landscape to the physical landscape of DNA in their organized genomes via olfactory/pheromonal input. Thus, the epigenetic effects of social odors called pheromones on oxytocin secretion and bonding is misrepresented again.

"Her theory is that adversity in early life is key to the impaired development of the oxytocin system."

My model details how conserved molecular mechanisms link sensory cause to effects on hormones that affect behavior. In mammals, nutrient stress and social stress act via the same pathway and the decapeptide that modulates all other neuronal systems (and oxytocin secretion in mammals) is conserved across all vertebrate species.

Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model
http://www.socioa...53/27989
JVK
1 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2014
Oxytocin (OT) doesn't automagically appear and regulate anything. Food odors and pheromones activate GnRH/GnRH receptor interactions that alter OT in all mammals.

"In summary, the present results demonstrate that in the male rat: (1) activation of the GnRH receptor in the hypothalamus results in stimulation of OT secretion; (2) melatonin, at the concentration close to its physiological level in the blood, inhibits basal and GnRH receptor-activated OT secretion in vitro; this influence could be mediated through a decrease of cAMP concentration, although there may be other mechanisms of action as well."

http://www.ncbi.n...19874874

See also: Human pheromones and food odors: epigenetic influences on the socioaffective nature of evolved behaviors
http://www.socioa...38/20758
JVK
1 / 5 (2) Apr 02, 2014
The structure of oxytocin (OT) is very similar to that of vasopressin, also a nonapeptide with a sulfur bridge, whose sequence differs from oxytocin by two amino acids. http://en.wikiped...Oxytocin

Substitution of glycine, the only achiral amino acid, in the structure of gonadotropin releasing hormone decapeptide (GnRH) is conserved across all vertebrate species and GnRH links the nutrient-dependent physiology of reproduction to control of species-specific behaviors by pheromones.

If you are an evolutionary theorist, you can ignore the biophysical constraints on protein folding that make it perfectly clear OT is of far less importance than GnRH in the context of behavioral development associated with nutrient stress, social stress, or the relative lack of stress.

As an evolutionary theorist, you are entitled to ignore all experimental evidence from physics, chemistry, and biology in every other vertebrate species and tout nonsense when you discuss human behavior.

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