'Love Drug' Hormone Oxytocin Helps Fight Mood Disorders

First Posted: Jun 25, 2013 11:48 AM EDT

A new study suggests that escaping a stressful situation might just make it worse. Instead, fight those feelings with the help of some good friends and loved ones with the rise of oxytocin levels that might improve feelings of frustration, exhaustion and defeat.

According to researchers at Concordia University, they believe this hormone is an effective way to improve overall mood after a unfortunate incident when hanging out with other people.  

To examine this further, Mark Ellenbogen and Christopher Cardoso, both researchers in Concordia's Centre for Research in Human Development, are taking a closer look at how oxytocin, a hormone that is commonly released during childbirth and breastfeeding, affects social behavior when engaging with others following these possibly traumatizing events. 

According to Ellenbogen via a press release, "that means that instead of the traditional 'fight or flight' response to social conflict where people get revved up to respond to a challenge or run away from it, oxytocin may promote the 'tend and befriend' response where people reach out to others for support after a stressful event. That can, in turn, strengthen social bonds and may be a healthier way to cope."

A double-blind experiment of 100 students were given either oxytocin or a placebo via a nasal spray and then subjected to social rejection. During a staged conversation used to stimulate real life, researchers posed as students disagreed with, interrupted and ignored unsuspecting participants to change their feelings throughout the experiment. Following, mood and personality questionnaires were distributed to participants. Participants who sniffed oxytocin prior to the event had higher moods than those who sniffed the placebo, according to the study, and were less likely to be affected by social rejection.

Researchers hope that studying oxytocin's use can be used to fight the development of mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, which have long been a point of research focus.

"I'm concerned with the biological underpinnings of stress, particularly interpersonal stress, which is thought to be a strong predictor of these mental disorders. So, oxytocin is a natural fit with my interests," Ellenbogen said, via a press release. "The next phase of research will begin to study oxytocin's effects in those who are at high risk for developing clinical depression."

The findings of the study can be found in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. 

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