Oxytocin: More Than Just a “Love Hormone”

Sept. 4, 2020

Dr. Sue Carter is a Distinguished University Scientist and Rudy Professor Emerita of Biology at Indiana University. A career biologist, Dr Carter has studied the endocrinology of love and social bonds for more than three decades. Her research on pair bonding helped lay the foundation for further work on the behavioural and developmental effects of oxytocin and vasopressin in humans. Recently, she has been examining the role of these neuropeptides in psychiatric and neurological disorders such as autism and depression.

In this podcast, Dr Carter discusses the many ways oxytocin is integral to our development, physiological health, and social behaviour. She explains how too much or too little can be detrimental and describes her long-standing concern regarding the consequences of using synthetic oxytocin to induce labour during pregnancy. She talks about some of the recently discovered developmental functions of oxytocin and vasopressin, including muscle and bone synthesis and regeneration, and shares what you can do to increase the oxytocin your body produces naturally.

Here’s the outline of this interview with Sue Carter:

[00:00:15] Book: Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, by Robert M. Sapolsky.

[00:01:01] Studying prairie voles.

[00:07:51] Thomas Insel, Larry Young, and Zuoxin Wang at Emory University.

[00:14:13] Book: Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles, by Robin Baker.

[00:14:36] Sarah Hrdy; Book: Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding.

[00:17:29] Effects of early life stress on oxytocin and vasopressin.

[00:26:15] "Cry it out" sleep training.

[00:28:04] Oxytocin and autism.

[00:30:13] Oxytocin being studied in treatment of autism; Reviews: 1. Benner, Seico, and Hidenori Yamasue. "Clinical potential of oxytocin in autism spectrum disorder: current issues and future perspectives." Behavioural Pharmacology 29.1 (2018): 1-12; 2. Okamoto, Yuko, et al. "The potential of nasal oxytocin administration for remediation of autism spectrum disorders." CNS & Neurological Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-CNS & Neurological Disorders) 15.5 (2016): 564-577.

[00:31:57] Pitocin (synthetic oxytocin).

[00:34:06] Just the right amount of oxytocin is required; too much and the system is disrupted. (Study mentioned by Sue is not available).

[00:36:19] Postpartum depression.

[00:39:52] Oxytocin as anti-inflammatory.

[00:40:40] Higher oxytocin associated with faster wound healing; Study: Gouin, Jean-Philippe, et al. "Marital behavior, oxytocin, vasopressin, and wound healing." Psychoneuroendocrinology 35.7 (2010): 1082-1090.

[00:42:08] Optimizing your body's production of oxytocin.

[00:42:43] Oxytocin necessary for muscle regeneration; Study: Elabd, Christian, et al. "Oxytocin is an age-specific circulating hormone that is necessary for muscle maintenance and regeneration." Nature communications 5.1 (2014): 1-11.

[00:43:35] Effect of exercise on oxytocin production.

[00:44:53] Oxytocin during exercise could prevent breast cancer; Study: Alizadeh, Ali Mohammad, et al. "Oxytocin mediates the beneficial effects of the exercise training on breast cancer." Experimental physiology 103.2 (2018): 222-235.

[00:46:30] Dr. Josh Turknett on minimizing environmental mismatch; Podcast: How to Win at Angry Birds: The Ancestral Paradigm for a Therapeutic Revolution.

[00:46:38] Book: The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, by Daniel Lieberman.

[00:46:41] Article: Evolved to Exercise, by Herman Pontzer.

[00:50:22] Potential use in treating COVID-19; Commentary: Oxytocin, a possible treatment for COVID-19? Everything to Gain, Nothing to Lose.

[00:55:03] Effects of adversity on oxytocin and vasopressin.

[00:56:02] Dr. Stephen Porges; Book: The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology).

[00:57:58] Possible downsides of oxytocin; Creating intergroup bias: De Dreu, Carsten KW, et al. "Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.4 (2011): 1262-1266.

[00:58:26] Vasopressin implicated in out-group phenomenon; Review: Kavaliers, Martin, and Elena Choleris. "Out-group threat responses, in-group bias, and nonapeptide involvement are conserved across vertebrates:(A Comment on Bruintjes et al.,“Out-Group Threat Promotes Within-Group Affiliation in a Cooperative Fish”)." The American Naturalist 189.4 (2017): 453-458. (On SciHub).

[00:59:18] Podcast: Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity, with Brian Hare, PhD.

[01:02:42] Podcast: The Postmenopausal Longevity Paradox and the Evolutionary Advantage of Our Grandmothering Life History, with Kristen Hawkes, PhD.

[01:04:13] The value of breastfeeding.

[01:09:54] Review paper: Is Oxytocin “Nature’s Medicine”? Not yet published. Please contact Sue if you would like a copy.

[01:11:15] Where to find Sue: Indiana University; Kinsey Institute; Pubmed.

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