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Oxytocin is a hormone secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, a pea-sized structure at the base of the brain. It is secreted into the bloodstream by the posterior pituitary gland. Secretion depends on electrical activity of neurons in the hypothalamus – it is released into the blood when these cells are excited. It’s sometimes known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone,” because it is released when people snuggle up or bond socially. Even playing with your dog can cause an oxytocin surge, according to a 2009 study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior. But these monikers may be misleading. Oxytocin can also intensify memories of bonding gone bad, such as in cases where men have poor relationships with their mothers. It can also make people less accepting of people they see as outsiders. In other words, whether oxytocin makes you feel cuddly or suspicious of others depends on the environment.

Oxytocin in women

Oxytocin is a particularly important hormone for women. “Oxytocin is a peptide produced in the brain that was first recognized for its role in the birth process, and also in nursing,” said Larry Young, a behavioral neuroscientist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

The hormone causes uterine contractions during labor and helps shrink the uterus after delivery. When an infant suckles at his or her mother’s breast, the stimulation causes a release of oxytocin, which, in turn, orders the body to “let down” milk for the baby to drink.

Oxytocin in men

For men, oxytocin function is less important, but it does have a role to play in moving sperm. It also appears to affect the production of testosterone in the testes.

Also oxytocin facilitates bonding in men. Dads who got a boost of oxytocin via a nasal spray played more closely with their 5-month-old babies than dads who didn’t get the hormone zap, a 2012 study found. (There is another hormone, called vasopressin, which plays a stronger role in men.)

Problems with Oxytocin Production

High and low oxytocin levels are possible, but research has not yet found any implications of these conditions. Men with high levels of oxytocin sometimes develop benign prostatic hyperplasia, or the enlarging of the prostate gland. This condition can cause urinary complaints. A lack of oxytocin can prevent the milk letdown reflex and make breastfeeding difficult. Low oxytocin levels have also been linked to depression, but using oxytocin to treat mental health conditions has not yet been studied sufficiently.

2017 study found that oxytocin may help treat autism and other developmental and psychiatric conditions that impair social interaction.

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Our approach to treating too much or too little oxytocin is the same. Supporting the endocrine glands is essential, and we have numerous strategies for doing just that. Our doctors can check your oxytocin levels, and prescribe a treatment plan uniquely suited to your needs. When it comes to better aging, we leave no stone unturned.
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How is oxytocin measured?

Immunoassays are the most common method for determining oxytocin concentrations. The first oxytocin assays were based on the radio-immunoassay format, but now most are enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs). These ELISA-based tests have acceptable limits of quantification of approximately a few pg/mL and imprecisions usually below 10%.
However, they aren’t standardized, and there is clear heterogeneity/lack of commutability between results obtained using different oxytocin immunoassays. This could be related to the specificity of the antibodies used in these assays and also to cross-reacting components, which reinforces the need for a sample’s extraction before testing. Sample extraction has a significant impact on oxytocin results: The concentrations of oxytocin measured by enzyme immunoassay without plasma extraction are more than 100-fold higher than in extracted plasma.

To improve the specificity of oxytocin measurements, assays based on liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) have now been validated for this hormone. Some of these two-dimensional LC-MS/MS assays are ultra-sensitive, with lower limits of quantification close to 1.00 pg/mL and with imprecisions also lower than 10%.

How is oxytocin controlled?

Oxytocin is controlled by a positive feedback mechanism where release of the hormone causes an action that stimulates more of its own release. When contraction of the uterus starts, for example, oxytocin is released, which stimulates more contractions and more oxytocin to be released.

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