Oxytocin Might Help Prevent Osteoporosis In Women

Oxytocin is well known for its role in a wide variety of social behaviors. It’s therefore not been a complete surprise that a number of studies have and continue to hold promise for the ‘trust hormone’ to be used as a therapy for a wide range of social handicaps such as autism, schizophrenia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. However, a study published this week has suggested that it might even help to prevent osteoporosis – an aging related disease that leads to loss of bone density and strength.

The team of scientists working at São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Brazil demonstrated that when administered to female rats at the end of their fertile period, the hormone reversed precursors of osteoporosis, such as reduced bone density and decreased bone strength.

Perhaps the findings are not so surprising when you consider that oxytocin first became known for its role in the female reproductive cycle.

In the study, the researchers administered two doses of oxytocin 12 hours apart to ten female Wistar rats. They were 18 months old, an unusually advanced age for laboratory rats, which have an average life expectancy of three years. Most in vivo experiments involve young rats that have been ovariectomized, i.e., had their ovaries surgically removed. The study involved rats in “peri-estropause”, considered to be the equivalent of perimenopause in humans, that were undergoing a natural aging process.

Thirty-five days after oxytocin was administered, the researchers analyzed blood samples and samples of tissue from the femoral neck (the upper portion of the femur just below the hip joint and the most common location for a hip fracture), comparing the results with those for ten 18-month-old female Wistar rats that were not given the hormone.

There was no evidence of osteopenia (loss of bone density) in the animals treated with oxytocin, in contrast with the control group. “Our results demonstrated that oxytocin helps to modulate the bone remodeling cycle in senescent rats,” Dornelles said. “The animals that received the hormone displayed an increase in biochemical markers associated with bone renewal and in the expression of proteins that support bone formation and mineralization.”

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Genetic Link To Autism And Oxytocin

The hormone oxytocin is known to play a huge role in all manner of human social roles, behaviors, and interactions. As such, it’s long been hoped to have the potential to form the basis of treatments for patients suffering from various social handicaps, such as those with autism.

Now a team of researchers at the University of Basel have found an apparent link between a genetic mutation that appears to lead to the social difficulties related to autism, and a reduction in the effect of oxytocin. The researchers claim their finding could lead to new treatments for autism and have already had promising results on mouse models.

Among the many genes thought to be associated with autism is a particular one that encodes the synaptic adhesion molecule neuroligin-3. Working with mouse models, the team of Swiss based researchers established the surprising link between that gene and an oxytocin signaling pathway. And although the gene appears to reduce the ability of the brain to be receptive to oxytocin signalling, this can be reversed by inhibiting protein synthesis.

Furthermore, the research team demonstrated that alterations in the oxytocin system in mice with a neuroligin-3 mutation can be restored by treatment with a pharmacological inhibitor of protein synthesis. This treatment normalized the social behavior of the mice: Like their healthy conspecifics, they reacted differently to familiar mice or mice foreign to them. Importantly, the same inhibitor also improved behavioral symptoms in a second rodent model of autism, indicating that it could be more widely applied in the treatment of autism.


The Complicated Social Role of Oxytocin Again Confirmed

Oxytocin may have been given clean and tidy names such as the ‘love hormone’, the ‘trust hormone’, and the ‘cuddle hormone’, but as scientists discover more and more about this powerful molecule, it’s become increasingly clear that its complicated effects can’t be categorized and pinned down quite so neatly.

Another new study published in the last few days has again found that oxytocin can amplify aggression as well as friendliness. The researchers came to their conclusions after studying the effects of oxytocin on mice in a semi-natural setting.

In the semi-natural environment, the mice at first displayed heightened interest in one another, but this was soon accompanied by a rise in aggressive behavior. In contrast, increasing oxytocin production in the mice in classical lab conditions resulted in reduced aggression. “In an all-male, natural social setting, we would expect to see belligerent behavior as they compete for territory or food,” says Anpilov. “That is, the social conditions are conducive to competition and aggression. In the standard lab setup, a different social situation leads to a different effect for the oxytocin.”

If the ‘love hormone’ is more of a complex ‘social hormone’, then it would have huge implications for the ambitions of many to use oxytocin as a pharmacological treatment for a range of socially debilitating conditions from autism to schizophrenia.

“Oxytocin is involved, as previous experiments have shown, in such social behaviors as making eye contact or feelings of closeness,” says Eren, “but our work shows it does not improve sociability across the board. Its effects depend on both context and personality.” This implies that if oxytocin is to be used therapeutically, a much more nuanced view is needed in research: “If we want to understand the complexities of behavior, we need to study behavior in a complex environment. Only then can we begin to translate our findings to human behavior,” she says.


Social Distancing is Playing Havoc with our Oyxtocin Levels

Social distancing may be having a profound effect on our oxytocin levels – the ‘love hormone’ that affects our desire and ability to bond with others.

As millions upon millions across the world are forced to reduce their social interactions, feelings of anxiety and loneliness are increasing – and that’s likely due to a reduction of oxytocin.

However, the relationship between oxytocin and social interaction – or the lack of it – is not always simple. Oxytocin can apparently even be raised in those feeling isolated and stressed.

Aside from subjective feelings of well-being, oxytocin levels have been associated with reduced blood pressure and heart rate.

According to researchers, nothing can completely replace in-person contact to raise oxytocin, but video chat that allows eye contact comes closest.

During times of social isolation, however, it’s important to stay connected to those you love and care about, psychologist Erin Leyba wrote in an article in Psychology Today.

She suggests setting up FaceTime calls with family members, playing virtual games with kids and reading books out loud with others to secure oxytocin’s positive influences during the pandemic.


‘Love Hormone’ Oxytocin could Help with Anxiety and Autism

Another study has found that oxytocin could potentially be used as a treatment for people suffering from social handicaps, from anxiety to autism.

In the latest study, British researchers examined the effect of oxytocin nasal spray – popularly known as the ‘love hormoe’ – on 17 healthy men. The hormone was administered both nasally through a spray, and through the volunteer’s blood.

The research team studied the blood flow to the region of the brain known as the amygdala and found it to be reduced by the combination of nasal and injected oxytocin. The amygdala is thought to be the region of the brain involved in processing social information, emotion and anxiety.

The researchers also found evidence that levels of alertness and excitement was reduced in the volunteers who had been administered the oxytocin.

Interestingly, the team from Kings College London also found that administering the drug via the nasal route targeted areas of the brain which the injection method did not reach, although it was not clear where.

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