Thursday, 8 September 2011

Oxytocin Improves Emotion Recognition

I have been reading some interesting research about oxytocin.  In a new study in Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier, Australian autism experts recruited adolescents with ASDs. Using a rigorous study design, they administered a single dose each of oxytocin and placebo via a nasal spray, received one week apart. Both times, the subjects were asked to complete a facial expression task that measures emotion recognition. Compared to administration of the placebo spray, the subjects' performance on the task was improved when they received the oxytocin spray. These findings provide the first evidence that "a brief and simple intervention can improve emotion understanding in autism, or in fact any clinical disorder associated with social dysfunction. It is also the first to show the benefits of oxytocin nasal spray in young people, suggesting potential for earlier intervention where there may be greater opportunity to improve development," explained author Dr. Adam Guastella. "This study, therefore, makes an important advance with the longer-term hope that oxytocin could be used to improve social function in everyday settings for clinical disorders associated with social dysfunction."

Oxytocin is not available as a drug to treat autism.  Even if it was I have never liked the idea of using drugs to treat autism.  

I have been looking into how the body produces oxytocin naturally and apart from the obvious (sex) I have found these:
  • Ingestion of food triggers oxytocin release by activation of vagal afferent nerves. Most likely, it can also be released by stimulation of other senses such as olfaction, as well as by certain types of sound and light. 
  • Purely psychological mechanisms can trigger the release of oxytocin. This means that positive interaction involving touch and psychological support may be health-promoting.
  • Oxytocin can be released by various types of sensory stimulation, for example by touch and warmth. Bloodstream levels of oxytocin have been shown to rise during massage.
 But I remember using a TENS machine during both my births.  Does a TENs machine produce oxytocin?  More research I think!

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