Nose spray lowers stress during spats

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marital spatWASHINGTON (Reuters) - A little squirt of a hormone that relaxes women during childbirth and breastfeeding helped lower stress in both men and women who were quarreling, a researcher reported on Tuesday.

[We suggest that you do NOT try this at home, for these reasons.]

Levels of a stress hormone called cortisol dropped significantly in the men and women given oxytocin, Beate Ditzen, a psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta, told the International Congress of Neuroendocrinology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

While they are nowhere close to developing a marital harmony drug, the researchers believe they may be on the trail of a way to help battle stress and, possibly, reduce conflict.

"I think it really could reduce stress," Ditzen said in a telephone interview.

Ditzen, then at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, and colleagues at the University of Fribourg tested 50 heterosexual couples, asking them to discuss a subject that they often disagreed about.

Half the couples first got a nasal spray of a medical preparation of oxytocin, used to help induce labor contractions in women, and half got a dummy spray.

Then they were encouraged to hash it out, on videotape.

This fits in with studies done in rodents, as well as in primates such as monkeys, Ditzen said. Several studies have shown that oxytocin affects sexual relationships among animals.

"It might be interesting to study how this is endogenously stimulated," Ditzen said. Such a treatment might be safer and would be preferable to giving someone drugs that can have side-effects.

Ditzen even tried some oxytocin herself.

"I tried to have a fight exactly like I told my subjects in the studies to do -- I asked my boyfriend and he took it as well, and we fought a bit," she said.

Fighting in laboratory conditions is probably artificial, Ditzen acknowledged, but she said the changes in cortisol levels were worth following up in further studies.

Ditzen does not believe oxytocin could or should be used as a medical marital aid.

"I think conflict in general is not a medical condition that should be treated," she said.

Original article By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent