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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Should We Be Ordering Oxytocin Online?

There's news today that Swedish and British scientists have used fMRI to show that inhaling a spray of the hormone oxytocin can reduce anxiety in certain people. Oxytocin is famous for the role it plays in lovemaking and childbirth (when levels surge) and is also thought to be important for our desire to connect with others and our sense of trust. Most of the receptors for the hormone are located in the brain's amygdala, a region that's key for social interaction and processing emotions.
Commercial versions of oxytocin are easily available online. Liquid Trust Spray, for example, which touts itself as the "first oxytocin product," promises to "enhance people's trust in you." According to the company, with Liquid Trust people "can find you more attractive. People can feel more relaxed and at ease with you. People can be more likely to trust your opinions. You can gain more respect." Should we all be buying oxytocin over the Internet, then?
Not so fast, says Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California, who tells Time magazine: "We should look at other ways to juice the system without having to put two spoons of liquid up your nose every four hours." Zak, who has long studied the relationship between oxytocin and trust, says there are more natural ways to boost the hormone, like yoga, exercise, massage, petting an animal, or even sharing a meal with a friend.
Sue Carter, a professor of psychiatry and co-director of the Brain Body Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago
, agrees. "If you feel safe and allow yourself to feel safe, you can learn, you can cooperate with others, you can build societies," she tells the magazine. "Now does that mean we should run around and spray everyone with oxytocin? I don't think so." —Heather Wax