College Settles with Woman Denied Comfort Guinea Pig

4257331059_a2d5f0bd2b_qKendra Velzen received $40,000 from Grand Valley State University because her school refused to let her carry her pet guinea pig everywhere on campus.  The 28-year-oldVelzen suffers from depression and uses a pacemaker. Grand Valley State let her keep her pet in the dorm, but barred it from some places including the cafeteria.

I blogged about Velzen's case when she first brought it. Those of us who depend on pets for comfort tend to be on her side; other people think it's ridiculous or even offensive to have animals around.

The story was picked up by Gawker, a site dedicated to snark. So it's not surprising that it and the comments are pretty mean.

Whether you choose to read the original news article or Gawker could say something about whether you like to be kind or not. Think about it.

 

 


Online Dating and the Oxytocin Gap

3676763773_f91c2089de_mA thought-provoking and disturbing article by Dan Slater on TheAtlantic.com posits that online dating sites make it so easy to meet new people that committed relationships fade away.

Slater, author of Love in the Age of Algorithms, uses anecdotes and interviews with the heads of online dating services to make the case that people won't bother to go through the hard work of forging a deep relationship when they know that they can just log on and date someone new.

In my book, The Chemistry of Connection, I discuss the differences between romance and love. Romance, fueled by dopamine and adrenaline, is an exciting but inevitably fading state that keeps us working to win a mate. Once we win him or her and begin having sex, oxytocin kicks in, leading us into the calmer state of committed love.

This progression was crucial in prehistoric times, when sex led to babies and a man and woman had to cooperate to keep their offspring alive. Nowadays, sex has been decoupled from procreation. And, unfortunately, our culture focuses on romance and teaches us that it's more important than simple mated love.

Slater quotes Greg Blatt,  CEO of Match.com’s parent company: "Relationships have been billed as ‘hard’ because, historically, commitment has been the goal. You could say online dating is simply changing people’s ideas about whether commitment itself is a life value."

Here's Niccolò Formai, the head of social-media marketing at Badoo, a meeting-and-dating app: "It’s exhilarating to connect with new people ... Over time you’ll expect that constant flow. People always said that the need for stability would keep commitment alive. But that thinking was based on a world in which you didn’t meet that many people."

Unfortunately, people still have a wired-in need for stability, in the form of trusting relationships. That doesn't need to come from a monogamous sexual relationship. But for most people, marriage of some kind is the primary oxytocin bond, along with children.

Our oxytocin bonds are what keep us healthy and reasonably sane. I worry about generations of singles bouncing from one unfulfilling relationship to another. How will they raise children who are capable of trust and love?

A Million First Dates

Photo by he(art)geek

 


Oxytocin to Treat Fibromyalgia?

For a couple of friends, I wanted to track down evidence that oxytocin could be useful to treat the symptoms of fibromyalgia. There are some shreds, just shreds of evidence. But a single, intravenous dose of oxytocin administered by a doctor should not have negative effects, as long as a woman wasn't pregnant. If I was suffering and had a physician who was willing to experiment, I might try it.

Here's what I found:
Plasma oxytocin levels in female fibromyalgia syndrome patients:

This 2000 study by Anderberg and Uvnas-Moberg looked at oxytocin levels in 39 women with symptoms of fibromyalgia, some of whom were depressed, comparing them to 30 controls (women without fibromyalgia). It found that depressed patients had significantly with lower levels of oxytocin in their blood, as did the small group of fibromyalgia patients who had a lot of pain, stress and depression.

The researchers concluded: "... oxytocin may, together with other neuropeptides and neurotransmitters, play a role in the integration of the stress axes, monoaminergic systems and the pain processing peptides in the pathophysiologic mechanisms responsible for the symptoms in the [fibromyalgia syndrome].

Alternative treatment of fibromyalgia using the oxytocin-hormonal-nutrient protocol to increase nitric oxide.(Clinical report)

Jorge Flechas is an MD who uses oxytocin to treat fibromyalgia. He has not published in peer-reviewed journals, but he did write this paper. (You will need to register for a free trial to read the whole thing.)

 Low-Dose Oxytocin Stops Burning Pain in Fibromyalgia

I have no idea where this came from, and it's only one person. But the paper says, "A two-week intranasal treatment with low-dose oxytocin proved effective in resolving the burning pain, but also resulted in a general improvement, including of hydration."

From Fatigued to Fantastic is a hypish-sounding book by Jacob Teitelbaum. In it, he says that one injection of 10 IU (1 cc) into a muscle may decrease pain in 30 to 60 minutes, although it doesn't always work.

It might be worth a shot.


Effects of Infant Stress May Be Lifelong

4822437519_c449a79734_qThe Natural Child Project posted an excellent article explaining how childbirth and baby care can set a baby's emotional and physiological tone.

Linda Folden Palmer, D.C, author of Baby Matters: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Caring for Your Baby, explains simply and compellingly how practices such as letting a baby cry herself to sleep or not feeding her when hungry can lead to permanently elevated cortisol and a reduced oxytocin response.

She writes,

Research on the biochemical factors influenced by child care methods demonstrates that with responsive parenting the body produces substances to help generate effective, loving, and lasting parents for an infant and infants who are strongly bonded to their parents. Over time these bonds mature into love and respect. Without a doubt these chemicals permanently organize an infant's brain toward positive behaviors and later development of strong, lasting attachments. However, the greatest lesson from these studies is that while nature has a very good plan, failure to follow it may lead to less desirable results.


photo by xopherlance


Oxytocin: Too Much of a Good Thing?

BalesThere's been plenty of research showing that when people inhale oxytocin, they tend to have more positive social behavior: trust, generosity, empathy and communication. But if taking one whiff of oxytocin can make you nicer, will taking oxytocin regularly keep you nicer? If you take a bigger dose, will it make you even nicer?

U.C. Davis researchers wanted to find out the long-term effects of taking oxytocin, so they studied prairie voles, the monogamous rodents that first demonstrated the positive effects of this brain chemical.

 The U.C. Davis research team, led by Karen L. Bales, treated a group of 89 male prairie voles with low, medium or high doses of inhaled oxytocin. The medium dose was roughly equivalent to the amount given to human subjects in lab studies.

They began giving the prairie voles one daily dose of oxytocin when they were weaned at 21 days old, and continued to give it to them through day 42, the time they reach sexual maturity.

"We were trying to approximate ages 12 to 17 in humans," Bales told me in an email. Because so many parents of children with autism spectrum disorder are turning to oxytocin products they've bought over the internet in hopes of increasing their kids' sociability, the short-lived voles offer a way to model the possible effects of long-term dosing of an adolescent.

 The study also wanted to look at possible dose-dependent differences: If one dose creates an effect, it doesn't necessarily follow that a different dose will create the same effect. In fact, she cites research showing that in schizophrenic patients, 20 IU of oxytocin increased emotion recognition, while a dose of 10 IU actually decreased it.

There was one troubling result: The male voles treated with low or medium doses of oxytocin were actually less likely to bond with a female -- and this effect lasted two weeks after treatment stopped. That could be equivalent to years in a human life.

 The female voles in the study also seemed to be less interested in mothering.

 Bales thinks that this effect could be attributable to down-regulation of the oxytocin receptors or oxytocin-producing neurons; that is, with external oxytocin flooding the receptors, they might become desensitized, while the oxytocin-producing brain cells might lower their production because it's not needed. It also could be attributable to changes in the vasopressin system, she suggests. Vasopressin is another brain chemical very similar to oxytocin that seems to be more important in male bonding.

 She says, "I originally thought that we would see the most changes with the highest dose of oxytocin, and that would be because of flooding oxytocin receptors and binding to vasopressin receptors.  But since we had the most changes at the lowest dose, that seems less likely.  Males do seem to be especially sensitive to developmental exposure to oxytocin...perhaps because they rely less on it normally?"

 Bales' work is with prairie voles, not people. But so far, what vole research taught us about oxytocin is quite applicable to humans. We think we're so different from this tiny, humble creature. But in fact, the genetic difference between Homo sapiens and other mammals is very small.

 It's not clear how applicable the results of this study might be to older humans, but certainly the body's receptors are constantly in a state of flux, responding to external changes. And it's well known that treatment with a hormone can cause the body to produce less of it.

 Bales plans to do more studies using voles of different ages, and also to look at different lengths of treatment.

 Meanwhile, if you are self-experimenting with oxytocin, it's a good idea to keep your dosing acute: once in a while with plenty of time for your body to go back to its natural state.

 Here's the ref: Bales, K.L. et al. Chronic Intranasal Oxytocin Causes Long-Term Impairments in Partner Preference Formation in Male Prairie Voles. Biological Psychiatry 2012.


Is Oxytocin Really Evil?

3339829858_72c2a17610_mNo, but not all of its effects turn you into an angel of bliss.

Science bloggers had a blast a few weeks ago, caviling at Paul Zak's Moral Molecule thesis, digging up an old study showing that soldiers defending their own troops had elevated levels of oxytocin.

Now, a new study, cleverly named The Herding Hormone, finds that oxytocin makes it more likely we'll conform to our group's standards.

First, men in the study were divided into two groups. Half the study participants inhaled oxytocin and half placebo. Then, they were shown photographs and asked to rate the people's attractiveness. While they were doing the ratings, they were also shown the ratings given by both their group and the other group (in-group and out-group).

Adjusting for various things, those who had inhaled oxytocin were more likely to conform to the ratings of their own group.  

This is not surprising; we humans are social animals. In primitive times, physical survival depended on cooperation and mutual support of the tribe or extended family. Today, while we can maintain a single household and make a living without deep ties, we become physically stressed without affection.

Oxytocin helps us remember who we know and trust. It creates a bond deep enough for two parents to stay together despite toothpaste in the sink, angry words and the sheer drudgery of raising kids. And that deep bond lets mothers and fathers hold their children through the tears, dirty diapers and teen-age years.

So, evidently, it also helps us get along by going along sometimes.

Interestingly, the study was led by Mirre Stallen, who is with the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam. (Zak also comes from the business world.) Business, commerce, industry, etc. are all based on cooperation and collaboration. Sometimes in the workplace, you can't be the squeaky wheel. So, a little oxytocin helps with that.

Lindsay Abrams of The Atlantic has an excellent write-up of the experiment with more detail.

Read more:

Dose Soldiers with Oxytocin

Oxytocin Not Always So Goody-Goody

Oxytocin, Chemical of Connection and Envy

PHOTO: twid


Oxytocin Could Help Schizophrenia

3206360360_07a0e2fb53_mInhaled oxytocin looks very promising for relieving some of the symptoms of schizophrenia: the inability to perceive emotion in others, to respond appropriately to social cues, mistrust of others and the tendency to come to the wrong conclusions about other people's actions.

Speaking at a National Institute of Mental Health symposium, Deanna Kelly, Pharm.D., of the University of Maryland, presented the results of several studies that showed improvement in patients with schizophrenia.

According to the report in Clinical Psychiatry News,

"Emerging clinical data demonstrate that oxytocin administrated via the intranasal route, which is believed to provide a favorable pathway for the peptide into the central nervous system, provides benefit with respect to emotion recognition, positive and negative core symptoms, social cognitive measures, and neurocognition."

PHOTO: Dark Botxy


Babies, Sensuality and Sex Appeal

3336779168_cc009ec7ebIs the sexualization of the breast responsible for low levels of breastfeeding? A report in Pediatrics said that breastfeeding babies for the first six months of their lives could eliminate 1,000 infant deaths a year and save billions in healthcare costs. But fewer than one-third of babies are fed exclusively on breast milk by three months of age.

Meanwhile, another kind of breast is in the news. Actress Kate Hudson flaunted augmented breasts, while images of reality TV star Heidi Montag were everywhere, thanks to her new F-cups, which look like they're 25 percent of her total body weight.

Call it the battle between breasts and boobs. Are breasts milk dispensers or sexual accoutrements?

In the Playboy era, people used to sniff that men's fixation on breasts was an urge for their mommies. Then, modern conveniences freed many women from the drudgery of housework, and let them become more ornamental. Mommies were freed from having to use their breasts to mother, thanks to formula, just like having a dishwasher let them keep their manicures. It's not surprising that women's fashion become more artificial in this era. Hair was teased and sprayed into a bouffant and long fingernails became de rigueur. No wonder breast augmentation was invented in this era.

Thanks to technology, breasts kept getting bigger and bigger, as the rest of a woman's body shrank. Look at the movie stars of the early 1960s; none of them would be able to get a job as a waitress in Hollywood these days. Today, Marilyn Monroe would be considered a fat cow. Not only was her waist huge, but her breasts were floppy.

Lane Bryant, maker of plus-size fashion, charged that Fox and ABC refused to run TV spots featuring a woman with ample, pillowy breasts. Real flesh is more shocking than the hard, compact balls of silicon we see on most models. http://www.familygoesstrong.com/real-curves-dont-make-it-tv

And an infant actually drawing milk out of a breast seems like a perversion. It's dirty and disgusting, like poo on a white carpet.

This is a shame. Breastfeeding is crucial not only to a baby's physical health, breastfeeding is crucial to the development of a baby's attachment system, tying the sensual pleasure of physical intimacy to trust and love. Even the U.S. Department of health and Human Services calls breastfeeding an important health choice.

Certainly, working outside the home is one of the biggest barriers to breastfeeding for a new mother. But so are the discomfort with breastfeeding in public places and a woman's fears about losing her primary sexual asset.

It's difficult for today's woman to have it both ways. We can work toward the standard of artificial beauty or give up and spread out. Pregnancy and child birth are where many women hit this split in the road. Becoming a mother should be a natural transition point, as it has been for eons. But the expectation that she'll maintain her virginal charms makes her want to get that baby off the breast so she can get back to the gym.

Let's put the breast back in its place: out in public, serving as a baby's first experience of sensuality and pleasure.

PHOTO: clairegren


A Contrarian View of Oxytocin

1055569383_7254689907Science blogger and journalist Ed Yong has gotten a lot of attention the past couple of days for complaining that oxytocin isn't a love drug, after all.

Yong points out that studies have shown that oxytocin is also linked to envy and gloating, and it also can increase aggression against individuals outside one's group.

I think in his attempt to be contrarian, he's deliberately understating the many positive effects shown in many studies. For example, he mentiones Jennifer Bartz, who has found that oxytocin's effect is influenced by one's mindset. He doesn't mention that she's also found that oxytocin improved the ability of people with autism spectrum disorder to pick up on the emotional content of speech -- effects that lasted more than a week.

Yong writes,

In many ways, oxytocin epitomises what happens when enthusiasm, salesmanship, and optimism runs ahead of evidence and careful experimentation. The true moral of the moral molecule may be that ideas that are too cleanly packaged are probably just fragments.

Oxytocin hype is building, and people are turning to the internet to buy oxytocin products because we are a society in desperate need of better connection. But I wonder why people are so excited (relieved?) to hear that better bonding isn't possible.

PHOTO Bbaunach


Oxytocin: The Goddess Molecule

We're hearing a lot about the Higgs boson particle, aka the god molecule. In a new article in Sun Goddess magazine, I propose that oxytocin is the goddess molecule.

Of course, oxytocin is just as important to men. But we women, likely because of the enhancing effects of estrogen on oxytocin, seem to be more important contributors to an oxytocin-enriched society.

Please check out the article:

Oxytocin: The Goddess Molecule