Secreted in the brain by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, oxytocin is a vital hormone, especially for women. Deficiency of oxytocin had an adverse psychological as well as physiological effect on women. This natural hormone plays a vital role in developing sexual pleasure, maternal character, social bonding and breastfeeding. These aside, oxytocin also contributes to positive emotions like happiness, love and loyalty of an individual. A healthy diet, meditation, yoga, aromatherapy and listening to music can enhance the production of this hormone. Apart from the oxytocin produced in the bran, this hormone is also made synthetically and given in the form of a supplement medicine on the recommendation of a physician. Findings of studies undertaken recently revealed that oxytocin is a helpful hormone that has the potential in treating a number of psychological problems, particularly autism.
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Often oxytocin is also known as adherence or love hormone because it plays a vital part in the bonding as well as social behaviour of mothers and infants and couples. In general, oxytocin is known as the birth hormone or femininity hormone. However, this hormone also has some important purpose in men, though it is not effectual in men as it is in women.
An English pharmacologist and physiologist named Henry Dale discovered oxytocin in 1906, but the molecular structure of this hormone was not known till 1952. The hypothalamus region of the brain produces this hormone, but its secretion into the bloodstream is regulated by the pituitary gland. In addition, oxytocin can also be directly released by the pituitary gland into the brain as well as the spinal cord. Oxytocin receptors - special cells that bind to this hormone, are present both in the brain and the spinal cord. Vitamin C is a vital constituent of the sequence that allows the secretion of oxytocin. In fact, vitamin C can also promote oxytocin production in the hypothalamus. Some tissues in the body like the ovaries, placenta and testicles contain oxytocin in elevated levels. Interestingly, these are the same areas in the body that have relatively high concentration of vitamin C.
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Oxytocin is also a neuropeptide or neuronal signalling molecule. In other words, neuropeptides are small molecules like protein that are used by neurons or brain cells to send signals to one another. Neuropeptides have the power to influence the activity of our brain, in addition to other physiological activities. Oxytocin is akin to a few other hormones produced by our body, such as vasopressin, which influences our blood pressure. The effects of these hormones in our body are also similar. There is some scientific evidence that oxytocin influences the emotional, social and cognitive behaviours of an individual. A feedback loop controls the production of oxytocin in the hypothalamus. For instance, oxytocin production increases when a baby is breastfeeding. On the other hand, the production of oxytocin declines when the baby does not breastfeed.
Oxytocin comprises nine amino acids and functions like a hormone in our bloodstream. In addition, it also acts as a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger in our central nervous system. Oxytocin also has a vital role in helping the uterus to contract during childbirth.
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When a baby is breastfeeding, oxytocin facilitates lactation by brining milk to the breast. At the same time, this hormone assists in milk production. Oxytocin also maintains a balance between feeling and behaviours as well as controls them. For instance, oxytocin helps to enhance the positive feelings like happiness and love. At the same time, the anti-inflammatory properties of oxytocin enable it to heal wounds quickly. Individuals having high concentration of oxytocin hormone possess an elevated pain threshold. This is evident from the fact that women are able to endure an excruciating process such as childbirth normally. Oxytocin has the ability to enhance their pain threshold.
Oxytocin also plays an important role in diluting the cervical before childbirth. Moreover, this hormone works to contract the uterus in the second as well as the third phases of labor. Secretion of oxytocin during breastfeeding results in gentle but aching contractions during lactation, especially in the first few weeks. This also facilitates the uterus to clot the placental attachment after child birth (postpartum). However, during studies it was found that the parturition and reproductive behaviour in knockout mice that did not have oxytocin receptor were normal.
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During the time of delivery, pregnant women experience a powerful contraction in their uterus due to the effects of the hormone oxytocin. At the start of childbirth, when the baby’s head stretches the cervix a neural message is sent from the area to the hypothalamus. On receipt of this neural message, the hypothalamus starts producing oxytocin, which, in turn, makes the contraction more powerful.
It is believed that oxytocin also works to adapt to inflammation by lessening specific cytokines. In this way, the increased release of oxytocin after an encouraging social interaction can facilitate healing of wounds. During a study undertaken by Italian psychiatrist Donatella Marazziti and her colleagues on heterosexual couples tried to probe this possibility. They discovered that plasma oxytocin increased significantly after a positive social interaction and this had a direct relation with rapid healing of wounds. Therefore, the researchers came to the conjecture that this was possible owing to oxytocin's ability to decrease inflammation, thereby, enabling quick healing of the wound. The findings of this study offers us first round of evidence that positive social interactions may possibly influence various aspects of our health directly.
Since oxytocin and vasopressin are similar hormones, the former also possesses the ability to somewhat lessen urination. It has been found that oxytocin has the ability to encourage excretion of sodium from the kidneys of many mammal species by a process known as natriuresis. When taken in high doses, oxytocin can cause hyponatremia in humans.
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It is noteworthy that oxytocin as well as oxytocin receptors are present in some rodents' heart. Hence, it is believed that this hormone may have a vital function in the development of the embryo's heart by means of encouraging a process called cardiomycocyte differentiation. On the other hand, knockout mice lack oxytocin and oxytocin receptors and, hence, these rodents don't suffer from heart failure.
Under specific conditions, oxytocin hormone works to hold back the secretion of cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone. Such circumstances may be regarded as a vasopressin antagonist.
Oxytocin has the potential to play a crucial part in autism and it is believed that this hormone can be effectual in treating specific symptoms associated with autism. It has been establish that oxytocin treatment has the ability to restore the emotional speech in elderly people enduring autism.
Some studies have shown that oxytocin also weakens some learning as well as memory functions. During memory tests, systemic oxytocin administration has been found to damage the ability to retrieve information. It is interesting to note that oxytocin is also thought to be a mechanism that has the ability to ease the memorizing process, particularly in the case of social information. Oxycotin can also be used intranasally and it was found that healthy men using this hormone in this way experienced an enhanced memory of faces, particularly of happy faces. In addition, the ability of such men to recognize positive social signal and also to distinguish fear improved greatly.
During experiments on animals, it was found after oxytocin was injected into rats’ cerebrospinal fluid, they experienced instant erection. This showed the effect of this hormone in their hypothalamus as well as the spinal cord. However, oxytocin receptor antagonists in the rats' brain have the ability to put off this kind of non-contact erection, which assesses sexual arousal. Similarly, studies were undertaken on female rats. In this case it showed that the oxytocin antagonists in female rats this hormone kindled lordosis behaviour in them. This is an indication of the fact that oxytocin works to enhance their sexual receptiveness.
This hormone also possesses the aptitude to boost confidence and increase generosity in an individual. At the same time, when oxytocin is taken in the form of a supplementary medicine it helps to lessen social treason among people. The hormone's influence on emotional events can be explained as a gauge of an individual's trust on people. It has been observed that people taking oxytocin as a medicine supplement usually describe stories or details on negative events in a more emotional manner while sharing them with others.
In healthy men, this hormone also enhances the knack of understanding. A section of researchers debate that oxytocin possesses an overall healing effect on all types of social sentiments, for instance jealousy.