Read an excerpt from the 3,000 word piece on the cuddle hormone Oxytocin written for Women’s Health magazine.
Just like you, oxytocin is a talented multi-tasker. It wears two hats: hormone and neurotransmitter, entering the blood stream while also travelling along nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It binds to receptors located throughout the body and influences physiology: when it’s not regulating body temperature, wound healing, thirst and hunger, oxytocin combats stress in the body by lowering blood pressure, kicking stress hormone cortisol’s arse and slowing down our breathing and heart rate. Dr Uvnas-Moberg, scientist at the Karolina Institute in Stockholm and author of The Oxytocin Factor ($63, Palgrave Macmillan) explains that oxytocin has the reverse effect to fight-or-flight hormones and calls it the yin to cortisol’s yang. In fact, one landmark UCLA study found that women respond to stress with a cascade of chemicals – not just fight-or-flight – that make us make and maintain friendships with other women. In other words, when you’ve had a crappy day at work and hook up with your girlfriends for a 6pm beer to sound off, you release oxytocin in your body, which counters your stress and makes you feel calm again. Since it all began with childbirth and breast-feeding, ladies were thought to have the oxytocin market cornered but recent research has focused on its effect on our behaviour. Our psychological reaction, known as the “oxytocin response”, is more complex and varies from one person to the next and this is where it gets really interesting.
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