Oxytocin Not Just For Cuddling Anymore – Now Linked with Anxiety & Bad Memories

The Many Faces of Oxytocin…Augments Bad Memories, Fear and Anxiety as well as Promotes Bonding and Trust

July 22, 2013 — The ‘love hormone’ oxytocin has been all the rage in scientific circles for several years due to it’s involvement in trust, single pair bonding, friendship and love. Yet, recent research seems to indicate that the neurotransmitter, oxytocin, can also strengthen negative memories and increase the intensity of anxiety and fear. This is an entirely new role being uncovered for the fan favorite neurotransmitter.

Negative social situations, such as being the target of bullying, getting yelled at by the boss or embarrassed by a teacher, seem to be reinforced and strengthened by oxytocin. And perhaps, oxytocin may be part of the trigger for dread – anticipatory worry – and anxiety. This comes at a time when oxytocin is being studied for use as an anti-anxiety agent.

The reason is that oxytocin seems to strengthen our social memories – positve AND negative – in one particular region of the brain, according to researchers at Northwestern University.

If a social experience is negative or stressful, oxytocin seems to activate an area of the brain that intensifies that memory. Further, it seems to increase the odds of feeling dread and anxiety in anticipation of future stressful events.

Ongoing research seems to indicate that oxytocin also augments positive social memories and, thus, intensifies feelings of well being as well.

The findings are critical as chronic stress is one of the primary causes of anxiety and depression, while positive social interactions lead to emotional health.

“By understanding the oxytocin system’s dual role in triggering or reducing anxiety, depending on the social context, we can optimize oxytocin treatments that improve well-being instead of triggering negative reactions,” stated Jelena Radulovic, the lead author of the study at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The paper was published July 21 in Nature Neuroscience.

Oxytocin is famous for it’s involvement in mothers and breastfeeding

This is the first and only research to link oxytocin to social stress and its apparent role in increasing anxiety and dread in anticipation of future stress. Northwestern scientists also discovered the brain region responsible for these effects — the lateral septum — and the pathway or route oxytocin uses in this area to amplify fear and anxiety.

The scientists discovered that oxytocin strengthens negative social memory and future anxiety by triggering an important signaling molecule — ERK (extracellular signal regulated kinases) — that becomes activated for six hours after a negative social experience. ERK causes enhanced fear, Radulovic believes, by stimulating the brain’s fear pathways, many of which pass through the lateral septum. The region is involved in emotional and stress responses.

The findings surprised the researchers, who were expecting oxytocin to modulate positive emotions in memory, based on its long association with love and social bonding.

“Oxytocin is usually considered a stress-reducing agent based on decades of research,” said Yomayra Guzman, a doctoral student in Radulovic’s lab and the study’s lead author. “With this novel animal model, we showed how it enhances fear rather than reducing it and where the molecular changes are occurring in our central nervous system.’

The new research follows three recent human studies with oxytocin, all of which are beginning to offer a more complicated view of the hormone’s role in emotions.

All the new experiments were done in the lateral septum. This region has the highest oxytocin levels in the brain and has high levels of oxytocin receptors across all species from mice to humans.

“This is important because the variability of oxytocin receptors in different species is huge,” Radulovic said. “We wanted the research to be relevant for humans, too.”

Oxytocin involved in fear, stress and anxiety as well as trust

Experiments with mice in the study established that

1) oxytocin is essential for strengthening the memory of negative social interactions and

2) oxytocin increases fear and anxiety in future stressful situations.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach, Expert consultant for Pixar

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought (for a free PDF copy, visit Guide to Self and click on the book icon on the left of the page)

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

(925) 575-0258

GuideToSelf.com – Web site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com –  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

HowICanBeHappy.com – For the latest in positive psychology and happiness

@johnschin – Twitter

Journal Reference:

  1. Yomayra F Guzmán, Natalie C Tronson, Vladimir Jovasevic, Keisuke Sato, Anita L Guedea, Hiroaki Mizukami, Katsuhiko Nishimori, Jelena Radulovic. Fear-enhancing effects of septal oxytocin receptors. Nature Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nn.3465

 

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Music, Emotion & Hormones: Why You Act the Way You Do!

June 13, 2012 in Psychology & Psychiatry

The velvety voice of Elvis Presley still makes hearts flutter—and in a new study with people who have the rare genetic disorder Williams syndrome, one of the King’s classics is among a group of songs that helped to cast light on part of the essence of being human: the mystery of emotion and human interaction.

In a study led by Julie R. Korenberg, Ph.D., M.D., University of Utah/USTAR professor, Circuits of the Brain and pediatrics, people with and without Williams syndrome (WS) listened to music in a trial to gauge emotional response through the release of oxytocin and arginine vasopressin (AVP), two hormones associated with emotion. The study, published June 12, 2012, in PLoS ONE, signals a paradigm shift both for understanding human emotional and behavioral systems and expediting the treatments of devastating illnesses such as WS, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and possibly even autism, according to Korenberg, senior author on the study and one of the world’s leading experts in genetics, brain, and behavior of WS.

“Our results could be very important for guiding the treatment of these disorders,” Korenberg says. “It could have enormous implications for personal the use of drugs to help people.”

The study also is the first to reveal new genes that control emotional responses and to show that AVP is involved in the response to music.

Williams syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by the deletion of 25 to 28 genes on one copy of chromosome 7. Those with the disorder look at the world through a unique lens. They may view everyone as their friend, to the point of running up to total strangers and striking up conversations as though they are old acquaintances. They have an affinity for music. But they also experience heightened anxiety, have an average IQ of 60, experience severe spatial-visual problems, and suffer from cardiovascular and other health issues. Despite their desire to befriend people, they have difficulty creating and maintaining social relationships, something that is not at all understood but can afflict many people without WS.

Korenberg and colleagues from the U of U, University of Illinois, Chicago, and the Salk Institute, La Jolla, Calif., conducted a trial with 21 participants, 13 who have WS and a control group of eight people without the disorder. The participants were evaluated at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Because music is a known strong emotional stimulus, the researchers asked participants to listen to music.

Before the music was played, the participants’ blood was drawn to determine a baseline level for oxytocin, and those with WS had three times as much of the hormone as those without the syndrome. Blood also was drawn at regular intervals while the music played and was analyzed afterward to check for real-time, rapid changes in the levels of oxytocin and AVP. Other studies have examined how oxytocin affects emotion when artificially introduced into people, such as through nasal sprays, but this is the one of the first significant studies to measure naturally occurring changes in oxytocin levels in rapid, real time as people undergo an emotional response.

Researchers asked the first participant to listen to the 1950s Elvis classic, “Love Me Tender.” The woman showed no outward response to the song, which can be typical not only of people with WS but particularly of people without the disorder whose faces may be impassive but jump up at the end of an exciting piece, Korenberg points out. But, to elicit a greater response from the remaining test participants, the researchers invited them to bring their favorite music to listen to—and many of them chose heavy metal. Again, there was little outward response to the music.

But when the blood samples were analyzed, the researchers were happily surprised. The analyses showed that the oxytocin levels, and to a lesser degree AVP, had not only increased but begun to bounce among WS participants while among those without WS, both the oxytocin and AVP levels remained largely unchanged as they listened to music. Interestingly, the oxytocin level in the woman who’d listened to “Love Me Tender” skyrocketed compared to the levels of participants who listened to different music.

Korenberg believes the blood analyses strongly indicate that oxytocin and AVP are not regulated correctly in people with WS, and that the behavioral characteristics unique to people with WS are related to this problem.

“This shows that oxytocin quite likely is very involved in emotional response,” Korenberg says.

To ensure accuracy of results, those taking the test also were asked to place their hands in 60-degree Fahrenheit water to test for negative stress, and the same results were produced as when they listened to music. Those with WS experienced an increase in oxytocin and AVP, while those without the syndrome did not.

Listening to Elvis was part of a larger study, published in the June 12, 2012 issue of PLoS One, that shows for the first time that oxytocin and another hormone associated with emotion, arginine vasopressin (AVP), are poorly regulated in people with WS and that atypical levels of oxytocin are linked to both the desire to seek social interaction and decreased ability to process social clues.

WS is ideal for studying how genes influence social behavior and emotion, according to Korenberg. Unlike other social disorders, the cause of Williams syndrome is known, which is critical for pinpointing areas of the brain and genes related to the disorder. It also could be extremely important in finding drug targets for WS.

In addition to listening to music, study participants already had taken three standard social behavior tests that evaluate willingness to approach and speak to strangers, emotional states, and various areas of adaptive and problem behavior. Those test results suggest that increased levels of oxytocin are linked to both increased desire to seek social interaction and decreased ability to process social cues, a double-edged message that may be very useful at times, for example, during courtship, but damaging at others, as in Williams syndrome.

“The association between abnormal levels of oxytocin and AVP and altered social behaviors found in people with Williams Syndrome points to surprising, entirely unsuspected deleted genes involved in regulation of these hormones and human sociability,” Korenberg said. “It also suggests that the simple characterization of oxytocin as ‘the love hormone’ may be an overreach. The data paint a far more complicated picture.”

However, the picture is very hopeful, and the study provides a key breakthrough that lights the way to making rapid progress in treating WS, and perhaps Autism and anxiety through regulation of these key players in human brain and emotion, oxytocin and vasopressin. It is important that work in the very near future may allow us to know how to adjust the dial on the OT and AVP system and its effects in different brain regions in ways that relieve suffering and improve the lives of those with the disorder, according to Korenberg.

http://www.eminemlab.com/images/wallpapers/Eminem-01-1024x768b.jpg

In particular, the study results indicate that the missing genes affect the release of oxytocin and AVP through the hypothalmus and the pituitary gland. About the size of a pearl, the hypothalamus is located just above the brain stem and produces hormones that control body temperature, hunger, mood, sex drive, sleep, hunger and thirst, and the release of hormones from many glands, including the pituitary. The pituitary gland, about the size of a pea, controls many other glands responsible for hormone secretion. The results of this study points to new clues as to what makes us and may prevent us from being just a bit more human.

Journal reference: PLoS ONE search and more info website

Provided by University of Utah Health Sciences search and more info website

Keep the faith!
John

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

GuideToSelf.comWeb site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschinTwitter

Want to Reduce Your Social Anxiety? Increase Your Salt Intake!

For those of you who have seen me speak, teach, or who know me personally, you are well aware that social anxiety is a genetic predisposition that I have learned to manage in my own life. I have learned and teach clients scientifically-proven tools to manage anger and anxiety, such as mindfulness, self-compassion, forgiveness, if-then thinking statements, and more.

Social anxiety is a topic that is very  near and dear to my heart because I have suffered the emotional distress that comes with it.

So I was quite excited to see this study which came out today that shows that higher levels of salt in the diet, while having other negative effects on the body, actually has a positive impact on those of us with social anxiety.

This study demonstrated that higher levels of sodium are associated with increased production of oxytocin (which leads to increased trust, rapport, caring, and connection) and decreased levels of pro-stress hormone angiotensin II. So higher levels of sodium actually decrease the painful feelings of social anxiety!

From an evolutionary perspective this makes tremendous sense. Imagine you are on the plains of Africa, millions of years ago, and you and your tribe are suffering from thirst and dehydration (and sodium levels are rising in the body). In this scenario, an increased level of cooperation and trust is necessary so that everyone in the tribe can get to water and share the water so everyone’s chances of survival increase.

Dying of thirst for connection

Dying of thirst for social connection? Must have oxytocin…

——————————–

Higher Levels of Sodium Reduce Your Response to Stress, Study Shows

ScienceDaily (Apr. 5, 2011) — All those salty snacks available at the local tavern might be doing more than increasing your thirst: They could also play a role in suppressing social anxiety.

New research from the University of Cincinnati (UC) shows that elevated levels of sodium blunt the body’s natural responses to stress by inhibiting stress hormones that would otherwise be activated in stressful situations. These hormones are located along the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which controls reactions to stress.
The research is reported in the April 6, 2011, issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience.

“We’re calling this the Watering Hole Effect,” says Eric Krause, PhD, a research assistant professor in the basic science division of UC’s department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience and first author of the study. “When you’re thirsty, you have to overcome some amount of fear and anxiety to approach a communal water source. And you want to facilitate those interactions — that way everyone can get to the water source.”

Krause and his team dehydrated laboratory rats by giving them sodium chloride, then exposed them to stress. Compared with a control group, the rats that received the sodium chloride secreted fewer stress hormones and also displayed a reduced cardiovascular response to stress.

“Their blood pressure and heart rate did not go up as much in response to stress as the control group’s, and they returned to resting levels more quickly,” says Krause.

“Also, in a social interaction paradigm with two rats interacting, we found them to be more interactive and less socially anxious.”

Further research, through examination of brain and blood samples from the rats, showed that the same hormones that act on kidneys to compensate for dehydration also act on the brain to regulate responsiveness to stressors and social anxiety.

The elevated sodium level, known as hypernatremia, limited stress responses by suppressing the release of the pro-stress hormone angiotensin II. Conversely, it increased the activity of oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone.

Further research, Krause says, will examine these hormones and neurocircuits to investigate their role in social anxiety disorders and autism, a neurological disorder whose characteristics include social impairment.

Oxytocin deficiency has been implicated in autism in previous studies,” says Krause. “We’d like to investigate the possibility that dysregulation in fluid balance during pregnancy could result in autistic disorders.”

——————————-

If you would like a FREE PDF copy of John’s award-winning book on managing anxiety and creating more positive emotions in your life, simply visit www.GuideToSelf.com, click on the yellow book icon in the top left corner of the page, then enter your name and email address on the following page. You will be immediately sent an email and given instant access to your copy of Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought.  This award-winning self-help book is filled with the latest in scientifically proven tools and tips to help you manage anxiety, depression and anger. It also is loaded with tips and techniques to teach you cutting-edge ways to insert more positive emotions and thoughts in your life.

To life, love and laughter!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Award-winning author and blogger

Founder Guide to Self, Inc.

Anger Management Coach

San Francisco Bay Area

Danville, CA

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center, via ScienceDaily and EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
________________________________________
Journal Reference:
1. E. G. Krause, A. D. de Kloet, J. N. Flak, M. D. Smeltzer, M. B. Solomon, N. K. Evanson, S. C. Woods, R. R. Sakai, J. P. Herman. Hydration State Controls Stress Responsiveness and Social Behavior. Journal of Neuroscience, 2011; 31 (14): 5470 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6078-10.2011

Both Mom AND Dad Get Boost in Oxytocin After Baby – New Study

I have been studying the effects of the hormone oxytocin over the past few years. In that time, oxytocin has been shown to

– play a critical role in trust between individuals

– may play a role in turning down the volume on social phobias and anxiety disorders

– be connected to greater generosity

– lead to a shift in brain chemistry that generates increased cooperation

– relate to bonding with infants as well as lovers

– improve relationships with friends and coworkers.

Oxytocin exists at higher levels in females than males. And it’s been known that oxytocin increases upon the birth of a child in new mothers. However, until recently, levels of oxytocin had not been researched in new fathers.

A compelling new study shares the first longitudinal data on oxytocin levels in rookie parents. The study looked at how oxytocin fluctuates in the in first 6 months of 160 newbie parents (i.e. 80 couples) following the birth of their first child.

Three fascinating findings were reported.

The first finding:

At both 6 weeks and 6 months following the birth of their child, fathers’ oxytocin levels were similar to the levels seen in mothers. While oxytocin release is heightened by birth and lactation in mothers, it seems that something  about new parenthood stimulates a corresponding oxytocin release in rookie dads. This is dramatically different from how we once conceptualized oxytocin and it’s involvement in newbie parents. For years, it was thought that females were the caregivers; moms were the ones primarily responsible for bonding and nurturing, and dads tried to stay out of the way.

One of the authors of the study, Dr. Ruth Feldman, called out that this finding “emphasizes the importance of providing opportunities for father-infant interactions immediately after childbirth in order to trigger the neuro-hormonal system that underlies bond formation in humans.”

The second major finding is that there is a relationship between oxytocin levels in the newbie dad and the newbie mom. Generally, oxytocin levels remain consistent within individuals. This finding suggests that something about new parenthood, perhaps enviornmental or hormonal factors, synchronizes oxytocin levels in rookie parents.

The third staggering finding showed that oxytocin levels were related to HOW mom and dad parent; that is what their parenting style is.  Oxytocin was highest in rookie moms who were more affectionate, expressive with positive emotions, gazed more at the baby, and expressed more gentle, loving touches.  In rookie dads, oxytocin was heightened with more touching of the newborn, more frequent cheering the child on to explore the environment, and pointing out new objects to the infant. 

“It is very interesting that elevations in the same hormone were associated with different types of parenting behaviors in mothers and fathers even though the levels of oxytocin within couples were somewhat correlated. These differences may reflect the impact of culture-specific role expectations, but they also may be indicative of distinct circuit effects of oxytocin in the male and female brain,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

It’s critical to keep in mind the importance of both the mom and the dad in the raising of infants and young children. Let’s get both involved from the get go. The roles are distinctly different, yet both are essential. Both have a place in the development of healthy humans.

 Cheers,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self, Inc.

Anger management tools for fathers and husbands

Free award-winning self-help book at

http://www.GuideToSelf.com

1.Ilanit Gordon, Orna Zagoory-Sharon, James F. Leckman, and Ruth Feldman. Oxytocin and the Development of Parenting in Humans. Biological Psychiatry, 2010; 68 (4): 377 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.02.005

 MLA Elsevier (2010, August 22). Oxytocin: It’s a Mom and Pop Thing. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/08/100820101207.htm