Oxytocin is a neuropeptide produced mainly in the thalamus and released from the pituitary gland.
A good dose of oxytocin, either produced by yourself or given externally has analgesic properties, certainly in rats and mice and very likely in humans (Rash et al 2014). Rash et al describe possible roles of the hormone in dorsal horn processing, as part of the endogenous “pain” control system and also refer to the large literature suggesting that enhanced oxytocin levels may decrease pain via improving mood, decreasing stress, enhancing calmness and lowering cortisol levels. Note however, recent views suggesting that its role may not always be universally beneficial and the hormone may be better considered a modulator rather than unilateral benefactor (Guzman et al 2013).
Whatever, it sounds as though it would be a good thing to tell people about – a real neuroscience nugget that may take only a minute or two.
It might go something like this… “Have you heard about oxytocin?….Its this great juice made by your brain, it gets into your blood and it calms you down, de-stresses you, makes you happier, less grumpy, makes blisters heal faster and can ease pain too” The patient might say “Wow – how do I get some of that?” You can answer something like “There are plenty of ways to get your body to produce more – having a baby and lactating may help, but if that is not available, cuddle someone you love, sing and dance together, have a photo of someone you love on your desk. If you can train your dog to gaze into your eyes, oxytocin increases (Nagasaewa et al 2009). Gaze back and your dog will get some oxytocin too.”
Rejoice when you get someone coming in and saying (with a wink) “Mate I think I overdosed on oxytocin last night“.
Paul Zaks (2012) “Moral Molecule” is worth a read here too.
Guzman YF et al 2013 Nature Neuroscience 16: 1185
Rash JA et al 2014 Clin J Pain 30: 453
Nagasawa M et al 2009 Hormones and Behavior 55: 434-441
Neuroscience nuggets are information nuggets – pieces of biological information based on statement or metaphor that can be used as educational analgesia, explicit education or part of overall story telling. We have collected over 100 of these for a book and will release one or two a week with a short description and references if appropriate.
Explain Pain 2nd Ed, the Graded Motor Imagery Handbook and all noigroup courses are all bursting at the seams with the latest and greatest neuroscience nuggets; click on the links to get your hands on a copy or to find a course near you.