Oxytocin is a hormone that also has neurotransmitter functions.. It could be said that, in general, its functions are linked to social relationships and the pleasure they cause. In addition, it also plays a fundamental role in childbirth and lactation.
It is known what oxytocin is, although perhaps not all of its functions are understood. Science still has much to discover about this molecule. This article shows different physiological and emotional functions that are related to oxytocin.
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What is oxytocin
Oxytocin is involved in different functions of vital importance.. For example, it is essential for the mother-child bond to be established at birth and, in addition to other physiological and emotional functions, it is suspected that it could be related to fidelity and monogamy.
Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus. To act, it is conducted through nerve fibers to the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. It is then released into the bloodstream and reaches the part of the body where it produces a specific effect.
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What are its functions?
Oxytocin has several functions in our body. Most of them are linked to social behaviors and falling in love, but it also plays a major role during childbirth.
When oxytocin reacts as a neurotransmitter, it stimulates certain areas of the brain that trigger direct behavioral responses. This function is related to social skills, and significantly influences the way people behave. Below are the main functions that this molecule has in the organism.
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1. Oxytocin and pleasure
Oxytocin is present during pleasurable intimate relations.. This molecule is one of the main hormones in this type of activity along with endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. During sexual intercourse, oxytocin levels increase considerably in both men and women, reaching its highest peak at the moment of orgasm.
At the moment of female orgasm, oxytocin causes contractions in the uterus. The aim is to push the sperm towards the egg and thus facilitate conception. For this reason, when couples are looking for a pregnancy, one of the most common pieces of advice is to forget about stress and enjoy themselves. If this is not the case, the release of oxytocin can be inhibited.
In the case of male orgasm, oxytocin also acts. Its function is to achieve conception. When oxytocin is released into the bloodstream, it travels to the prostate and seminal vesicles to contract the muscles and achieve ejaculation. In the case of intimate relations, oxytocin is present in both men and women.
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2. Oxytocin and social bonds
When oxytocin functions as a neurotransmitter, it allows social relationships to be established.. Another function of oxytocin has to do with affective relationships, love bonds, social behavior and even with the maternal and paternal instinct and the willingness to serve and help others.
Oxytocin is known as “the love hormone”, because during the stage of falling in love the brain secretes large amounts of this substance. There is a feeling of wanting to be with the person in question, and when this is achieved, oxytocin is secreted again.
That is why it is also called “the hormone of monogamy or fidelity”. The higher the oxytocin levels, the greater the desire to be with that person. Although not everything ends with falling in love, oxytocin also acts in other types of social relationships and allows us to feel empathy and social memory.
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3. Oxytocin in childbirth
Oxytocin has a fundamental role in childbirth.. Throughout pregnancy the pituitary gland releases oxytocin throughout the bloodstream, and its receptors are in the uterus and mammary glands. At the end of pregnancy oxytocin levels increase even more in these two organs, and at the onset of labor they play a key role.
Oxytocin is what causes the uterus to contract. As the process progresses, the brain literally floods with oxytocin to allow contractions to continue. Not only until the baby is expelled, but also afterwards to allow the placenta to come out as well. The baby also releases oxytocin during this process.
For oxytocin to be released, it depends in turn on other hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, estrogen, prolactin and endorphins. Others such as adrenaline can completely inhibit the work of oxytocin. It is for this reason that childbirth should take place in as comfortable and relaxed an environment as possible.
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4. Oxytocin in lactation
Oxytocin is involved in the process of breastfeeding.. In addition to stimulating contractions in the uterus, oxytocin travels to the mammary glands generating pulses which in turn stimulates prolactin, the hormone responsible for producing milk. Oxytocin generates contractions throughout the breast tissue to facilitate suckling.
Moments before the end of labor, oxytocin already begins to stimulate the mammary glands, preparing them to begin suckling once the baby is born. When mothers listen to their baby, smell it or cuddle it, they also generate large amounts of oxytocin. This helps to keep milk production going.
On the other hand, this release of oxytocin by the mother also affects the baby; he also produces this substance. For this reason, the moment of breastfeeding can produce great pleasure in both and allows to establish and strengthen the bond between mother and child.
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Some curious facts about oxytocin.
The etymological origin of the word gives a sample of one of its main functions. The origin of the word oxytocin is Greek and comes from “oxys”, meaning “fast”, and “tokos”, meaning “birth”. Thus, a high release of oxytocin without inhibiting factors allows for a faster delivery.
Another interesting fact is that recent research has found that one of the probable causes of autism is the absence of this hormone. Oxytocin is involved in complex social processes such as empathy, trust and generosity, aspects that people with autism fail to process.
Oxytocin may also be related to resilience and the ability of human beings to positively overcome crises and tragedies. A person who throughout his life has presented high levels of oxytocin release also presents greater resilience.
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