Scientists have recently discovered a chemical that makes people trust each other. Liquid Trust is the world's first Trust Enhancing Body Spray, specially formulated to increase TRUST in YOU. Unleash the power of Liquid Trust and instantly build relationships that were never possible before! -Vero Labs-
At every presentation we give, we recommend that couples emphasize such behaviors as selfless giving, nurturing affection, close companionship, feelings of appreciation, and quiet time together. Why? Because these behaviors naturally encourage the production of oxytocin and increase its effectiveness by stimulating the growth of new oxytocin receptors on key nerve cells. After we describe the many benefits associated with oxytocin (countering addiction and depression, facilitating bonding, speeding healing, strengthening immunity…), someone inevitably asks, "Can’t I just take an oxytocin pill?" No, and spraying it around won’t duplicate the same benefits as choosing the behaviors that produce it in the right parts of the brain either.
The company quoted above sells an oxytocin body spray, but there are also oxytocin nasal sprays available by prescription. Spraying it on your body is unlikely to have any effect on others - this suggestive ad notwithstanding. Spraying it into your nose is an extreme measure with potentially grave side effects. Let’s look at why.
Neuroscience in a nutshell
The central nervous system contains some hundred billion nerve cells. Each nerve cell branches out to communicate with about 25,000 other nerve cells. So each nerve cell is contacted by 25,000 nerve cells. Each contact is a communication point - a place where one nerve cell releases and receives neurochemical messages. There are many different neurochemicals, which are often hormones, each with the ability to deliver various messages. It’s an almost infinitely complex system.
The brain and the body have their own intelligence. They constantly balance these chemical messengers to control all bodily functions and brain activities, maintaining precise, incomprehensible, inter-related control. The same neurochemical can have different effects depending upon other factors…such as the availability of receptors on nerve cells receiving the chemical messages, and the other neurochemical messages being sent within the body. Not surprisingly, when scientists attempt to manipulate chemical messengers within this system, things go wrong. There are always side effects, both short-term and long-term.
Various tissues of the body produce oxytocin and, as a messenger, oxytocin has numerous targets. For example, it is released from the pituitary gland, enters the blood, and goes everywhere in the body…except back into the brain. It is also released in the brain in very precise centers, each with very specific functions. On top of that, several organs also produce it. So, for instance, the penis makes it to bring on an erection and the heart produces it to decrease blood pressure.
Oxytocin has multiple known, and, most likely, unknown, functions in both the brain and the body. Therefore, if you add oxytocin to the brain or body to enhance one function (like trust), it can have unexpected side effects (like uterine contractions). Some of the known functions of oxytocin are inducing labor contractions and milk ejection, contracting the vagina, contracting the smooth muscle in the penis, and contracting the smooth muscle in the intestines and stomach. It also induces changes in the major hormones that control digestion and raise sugar levels in the blood. In addition, it affects water and mineral balance in the body and blood pressure and heart rate.
Researchers are currently looking at how oxytocin nasal spray promotes harmony and trust (see, for example, Nose spray lowers stress during spats and Trust in a bottle). They have also been conducting experiments designed to use it in the treatment of autism and other antisocial disorders (Trust-building hormone short-circuits fear in humans). Results have been mixed in the short-term. And they are not yet looking at long-term effects, which past experience suggests can be quite severe.
Well-known oxytocin researcher Sue Carter1
thinks we're moving too fast with oxytocin therapies. She pointed out several issues with dosing humans with oxytocin. First, it's not clear how much relation there is between serum levels of oxytocin and levels in the central nervous system. Second, it's possible that the problem with ASD [Autistic Spectrum Disorder] is related to vasopressin rather than oxytocin. Finally, she said that with any hormone, there is an optimal level and a balance with other chemicals in the body. We don't know whether increasing the level of oxytocin will throw other things out of balance, or cause a shut-down in the body's natural production.
If you spray oxytocin up your nose, it floods your brain. However, at the same time it floods your brain, it enters your blood taking messages all over the body. Where your body would deliver it with precision to the place it is needed, this shotgun approach affects many unintended functions of the body and alters the brain.
Originally developed to encourage mothers’ milk production, oxytocin nasal spray has been around for decades and has been used in various experiments. It has had some unfortunate side effects. For example, when a patient with obsessive-compulsive disorder used it for 4 weeks, the patient showed clear improvement of that disorder. However, the patient also developed severe memory disturbances (oxytocin apparently helps mothers forget the pain of childbirth), psychotic symptoms, and marked changes in blood sodium levels, which may have masked the obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
In other oxytocin nasal spray experiments, vigor was reduced after treatment, and blood glucose, insulin, and glucagon levels increased. (Higher blood sugar levels are associated with diabetes.) Rare side effects included convulsions (seizures), unexpected bleeding or contractions of the uterus, nasal irritation, runny nose, tearing of the eyes, and mental disturbances.
Here’s the warning that accompanies an oxytocin nasal spray prescription:
The presence of other medical problems may affect the use of oxytocin. Make sure you tell your doctor if you have any other medical problems, especially: Heart disease, hypertension and kidney disease
Oxytocin (pitocin) has been widely used to induce labor for decades. Yet, even there it has done a lot of (mostly unacknowledged) harm. Forced oxytocin can increase the pain of delivery, necessitating medication that actually slows delivery. Its wide use has even been linked with the rise in autism.
Artificial manipulation of hormones can have far ranging effects. Even replacing testosterone, estrogen and other hormones, which decrease as we age, has proven risky. For this reason, it is wise not to raise a hormone above a normal level. Disease would be the most likely outcome from blasting your nose regularly with oxytocin spray.
Consider the hormone adrenaline. At ideal levels it is an antidepressant, and your body increases it as needed to enable you to respond to emergencies. But if you overdosed yourself with it, you’d be thrown into "flight or flight" mode, which would be very stressful and unhealthy.
There’s also a domino effect from hormonal manipulation that results in excess. All the inter-related neurochemicals tend to adjust themselves, creating unknown side effects or even countering the desired effect. For example, hormone replacement therapy is given to prevent osteoporosis, but longer-term studies reveal an increase in strokes and cancer among patients using this therapy. Moreover, one hormone can mimic the effects of another hormone. Soaking the brain artificially with oxytocin activates brain centers designed to be turned-on only by another hormone, vasopressin. Nature prevents such mix-ups with pinpointed release. A researcher's goal may be simply to increase trust, but the vasopressin centers that may inadvertently be activated decrease body temperature and increase heart rate. Nature is more precise; that’s why all man-made drugs have side effects.
Can oxytocin spray help my love life?
Whatever else they may be doing to their subjects, the recent nasal spray experiments (mentioned above) have one thing in common: they appear to reduce hypervigilance - either in economic or social contexts. This is achieved when researchers pump enough oxytocin into the entire brain to reduce the vigilance of the amygdala, a part of the brain that guards against perceived threats.
Even if you wanted to risk the possible side effects from regular overdoses of oxytocin, would calming the amygdala improve your love life? Certainly, trust is important to love, but it’s not the only factor in deep emotional bonds. An artificial overdose of oxytocin isn’t a magical love potion. Spraying it up your nose isn’t going to attract love, or make you bond with anyone in particular. It can’t mimic nature.
Yet there are steps you can take to achieve ideal oxytocin levels organically. Activities that aid others and create close companionship, caring touch, and meditation and prayer help you do this naturally and safely. The great religions have all touted the benefits of selflessness and gratitude. During a massage the oxytocin levels of both giver and receiver naturally rise. Surveys show that generosity is associated with increases in longevity and decreased pain. Research suggests that naturally-produced, higher levels of oxytocin are likely to be behind all of these gains.
In short, specific neurochemicals and certain behaviors are circular. By choosing the behaviors associated with oxytocin, you encourage ideal levels of it without risking the unwelcome side effects from artificial manipulation. Choosing such behaviors consciously may be especially beneficial for people with less than optimal infancies. Those of us not raised in tribes, or surrounded by congenial love ones, may be "undernourished" in the oxytocin production (and oxytocin nerve cell receptors) arena. We may have the most to gain from conscious steps toward encouraging its production naturally. It is also intriguing that oxytocin levels can correlate with levels of human nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF is present in the brain in larger quantities during early romance, when couples experience that "in love" feeling.
Before you reach for liquid love, try a hug.
NOTE: For a more current look at oxytocin research see Oxytocin Revisited.
- 1. [Link to article: http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?articleID=21920