Relationships are hard work and most of the people probably think at some point that communicating in a positive way with the other half when discussing stressful issues, such as home finances, for example, is an impossible thing to do. However, now the Swiss experts say that there is a "love hormone," that could edge off such conflicts.
Oxytocin is a hormone that also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It has been used for many years for its role in the birth process, such as inducing labor and lactation. Oxytocin has been found to be beneficial for reducing anxiety and stress, producing feelings of well-being, empathy, bonding, and sexual arousal. But more recently, the researchers from Switzerland started exploring the benefits of the hormone on human couple interactions in order to help couples communicate better. Oxytocin is marketed under the name "Liquid Trust" and is also called the "cuddle chemical."
For the study purposes, the investigators recruited adult couples who they randomly assigned into two groups: one group of participants were administered oxytocin intranasally and the other group received placebo, also in a nasal spray, before engaging in conflict discussions in a lab setting. The experts then analyzed the effects of the hormone given to couples, and found that it reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increased positive communication behavior, compared to the placebo.
"We are just beginning to understand the powerful effects of hormones and chemicals released by the body in the context of important social interactions," commented John Krystal, M.D., the editor of Biological Psychiatry and added that scientists are looking forward to exploring pharmacological use of oxytocin in order to facilitate positive communication, and bring down stress levels between couples who have trouble when it comes to discussing their finances or how to raise children.
The main author of the study, Beate Ditzen said that this study was the first of its kind on this matter and important because it analyzed real-time behavior of couples in natural environment. According to Ditzen, the hormone might help the scientists to pronounce the effects of a standard treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, by possibly making the benefits of social interaction more accessible to people. But it most probably will not replace these standard treatments, said Ditzen.
The investigators caution that this study does not indicate that oxytocin must be used as a treatment on its own and the effects of repeated use of the hormone have not been examined in humans. What is more, important ethical concerns will have to be taken into consideration, such as to what extent it should be administered as a "treatment" and whether developed treatments could become drugs of abuse in the form of "social enhancers."
Previous studies on the oxytocin, published in July 1999 in the journal Psychiatry, came to the conclusion that the hormone "may be mediating emotional experiences in close relationships." Another research authored by Rebecca Turner, PhD, from University of California, found that oxytocin is a powerful hormone that promotes attachment between human beings. Oxytocin is natural reaction of the body in response to feelings of happiness, and is best known for promoting bonding between mothers and newborns following birth.