Oxytocin and Stress

Stress is a dangerous aspect of human life – at its worse it can kill, at best it drives people to acts of intension brave. There is a tendency in humans towards a 'fight or flight' response to situations that threaten the status quo – fighting simply means doing something about the issue, flight means, in reality, ignoring it and hoping it will go away.

A naturally occurring hormone, oxytocin, has been seen to have an impact on our ability to form relationships with others – to form affiliations that may help to meet problems "head on" in times of stress.

Oxytocin was first discovered in 1909 by Henry Dale who noticed that the hormone, produced within the pituitary gland, was particularly helpful in coping with the labor stages of childbirth and that it, subsequently, helped to stimulate the production of milk in the mother. The name oxytocin was created as it came from the Greek and when translated means 'swift birth' – an adequate description of what the hormone actually does. Later studies, notably by Vincent du Vigneaud, identified that oxytocin was also prevalent in a number of areas: helping in the creation of relationships, enhancing the process of feeling; and improving sleep patterns – all part and parcel of reducing stress levels in individuals.

Here then, is a substance that we all (male or female) have, in varying quantities and which is produced in response to situations that we find ourselves in. Was it, therefore, possible that something so small and seemingly insignificant – after all it comes from something no bigger than a coffee bean – could provide a key to helping at times of extreme stress?

The answer is a complex and ambiguous one – yes and no!

Yes, because, when times are hard, we often look for support from those around us and oxytocin can help in the forming and cementing of relationships – in other words behaving others to help our cause.

No, but a qualified no, because, while oxytocin is not a magic wand or instant panacea that we can just take and the world is our friend and all stress disappears, when applied in the right manner and in the right dose, it can help to stimulate the response towards others and create the attitude within an individual, a propensity towards affiliation that means we befriend others. Where, then, is this philosopher's stone and how can it best be used?

How can it be applied? Well, that answer is easy. An oxytocin supplement comes in two basic forms – a nasal spray or a drop that is taken under the tongue. The former gains entry to your system through intervention. The latter is simple and provides direct access to the mucus membrane – simply place a drop of oxytocin under the tongue (known as a sublingual drop). Both treatments take up to 15 minutes to get into your body's system and once there will be available for several hours – just remember that this is not a replacement or substitute for something you produce naturally, it simply enhances the body's natural oxytocin production.

The body recognizes that oxytocin is being produced and triggers responses that enable you to relax into the process of affiliation with others to sort out the problem that is causing the stress in the first place.