Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland, particularly during labor and breastfeeding. It has also been associated with sexual arousal, giving it the nickname the “love hormone.” Oxytocin has the capacity to shape human social behavior ranging from pair bonding and sexual activity to autism and parental behaviors. Oxytocin induces a general sense of well-being including calm, improved social interactions, increased trust, and reduced fear. Therefore, oxytocin can potentially be used to enhance interpersonal relationships and individual well-being, and might have more applications in neuropsychiatric disorders especially those characterized by persistent fear, repetitive behavior, reduced trust and avoidance of social interactions.
A Swiss study showed that volunteers who were given oxytocin as a nasal spray were more trusting than those given a placebo. The brain centers triggered by a betrayal of trust have been identified by researchers, who found they could maintain trust by administering oxytocin. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers found that the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, was less active in the group that received oxytocin. Reducing amygdala activity lowers social fear and anxiety.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego Medical Center published a case report of a male treated with a course of intranasal oxytocin for social anxiety. The patient had significant, broad-spectrum improvements in sexual function, including libido, erection, and orgasm; and oxytocin was well tolerated. Also, another report presented the case of a man who was unable to have an orgasm, but who was successfully treated with administration of intranasal oxytocin during intercourse.
Intranasal Oxytocin Normalizes Core ASD Deficit
In autism, there are 3 core deficits — social communication, repetitive behavior, and fixated or restricted interest. Patients with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) show secondary disabilities such as irritability and aggressive behavior. Studies have shown that blood levels of oxytocin are lower in children with ASD. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study, a total of 32 individuals (all males, average age 13), 16 with ASD and 16 matched control participants, were given either intranasal oxytocin or a placebo. Based on the results of this study, intranasal administration of oxytocin appears to normalize core deficits in ASD.
A 16 year old girl with ASD was treated with long-term administration of oxytocin nasal spray, administered as one “puff” each morning and evening. One month after starting nasal oxytocin spray administration, the girl’s social behaviors began to improve and she had no adverse effects. In two months, her irritability and aggressive behavior improved dramatically with marked decreases in aberrant behavior checklist scores from 69 to 7. In another case, an autistic boy showed improvement of some social interactions such as mind or emotion reading, social memory, and positive communication after one year of intranasal oxytocin administration.
A single-dose, placebo-controlled, double-blind study found intranasal oxytocin to be safe and highly effective in the management of chronic migraine. Compared with a placebo, intranasal oxytocin decreased the percentage of patients with nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.
Lack of Adverse Reactions
A review was conducted of 38 randomized controlled trials conducted between 1990 and 2010 that investigated the central effects and adverse effects associated with intranasal oxytocin. The trials included 1529 subjects (79% male) who received intranasal oxytocin, in dosages from 18 to 40 IU, mainly given in single doses but ranging up to 182 administrations. Side effects are not different between oxytocin and a placebo.
Our compounding pharmacy can prepare oxytocin as a
nasal spray or a sublingual dosage form.
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