Oxytocin is like the gift that keeps on giving. Every so often we hear more and more about the “love hormone” and its various effects on the human body. To add to your ever growing knowledge of the love drug, new research suggests that oxytocin affects us in the same ways that alcohol does.
In study published on May 19 in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, researchers at the University of Birmingham dug into existing studies about the effects of alcohol and oxytocin and “were struck by the incredible similarities between the two compounds,” researcher Ian Mitchell said. Just like downing a shot or two to loosen you up, oxytocin makes you feel more generous, more trusting, more empathetic, and more relaxed. When people are more relaxed, their sense of fear is lowered, and are readily able to take risks that they wouldn’t have otherwise. After all, they don’t call it liquid courage for nothing.
While it is widely known as being the hormone released during sex, oxytocin can help play a role in a number of other things like promote monogamy, help men lose weight, treat anorexia, and help curb those diet-killing snack cravings. Not to mention, it also makes you a much more trusting, generous, and an overall socially positive person.
“They appear to target different receptors within the brain, but cause common actions on GABA [an amino acid] transmission in the prefrontal cortex and the limbic structures. These neural circuits control how we perceive stress or anxiety, especially in social situations such as interviews, or perhaps even plucking up the courage to ask somebody on a date. Taking compounds such as oxytocin and alcohol can make these situations seem less daunting.”
That’s pretty sweet news for people who feel like they need that extra boost of confidence before a nerve-racking situation such as a first date or a job interview. While turning up for a job interview with even a drop of alcohol in you is a no-no, people do it. But Mitchell suggests relying on a different source to help you get past your initial fears.
“It you are anxious about going for an interview, a quick embrace from your partner could certainly help,” Mitchell said.
It definitely gives a new meaning to the phrase, “hugs not drugs.”
On the flip side, since life has a way of keeping things perfectly balanced, for every up there’s always a down. In this case, while a shot of tequila and a quick spritz of oxytocin (which can be bought as a nasal spray, by the way) can make you much more confident, it can also fuel aggression, arrogance, and envy.
So, since oxytocin and alcohol seem to give off the same effects, can we expect to see less bars with bottles and more bars with inhalers a la, oxygen bar-status? Not quite. As investigator Steven Gillespie said, “I don’t think we’ll see a time when oxytocin is used socially as an alternative to alcohol, but it is a fascinating neurochemical and, away from matters of the heart, has a possible use in treatment of psychological conditions. Understanding exactly how it suppresses certain modes of action and alters our behavior could provide real benefits for a lot of people. Hopefully this research might shed some light on it and open up avenues we hadn’t yet considered.”
Since more and more new findings regarding the love hormone and its potential benefits seem to come out every other day, it's only a matter of time before people start stocking up on it by the bottles full.
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