Over the last few weeks we have learned about some lesser known nutrients that directly impact the functioning of the cardiovascular system and heart. But because healthy heart month falls in the shortest of the twelve, we couldn’t showcase all of the foods and herbs known to benefit our most important muscle. Here’s a quick review of the items we did cover.
- Energizing the heart with CoQ10 and Coenzyme A
- Breaking down body fat with Raspberry Ketones
- Cutting cholesterol and strengthening arteries with OPCs
As befitting as it gets, February is also the month of the infamous L-word; so, I could not let it pass without making mention of the substance most affiliated with this wonderful and wondrous emotion-love’s elder and offspring, Oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter possessed by all members of the mammal family. Produced in the brain’s hypothalamus and secreted by the pituitary gland, it is actually composed of nine different amino acids-cysteine, tyrosine, isoleucine, glutamine, asparagine, cysteine, proline, leucine and glycine. One of its primary functions is to regulate the flow of information throughout the reproductive and central nervous systems.
In the reproductive system, Oxytocin helps trigger uterine contractions for childbirth, the mammary glands’ release of mother’s milk, and the transports of the sperm and egg. In the brain and central nervous system, Oxytocin receptors help regulate the behaviors associated with social connection such as identification, association, bonding, sexual pursuit and parental attachment.
Some mammals have Oxytocin receptors in their hearts, and it is currently thought to participate in the development of the human embryo’s heart. In addition to that critical role, Oxytocin is theorized to contribute to many other biological processes. Inflammation is reduced and healing is accelerated after Oxtocin’s release; fear and anxiety subside and feelings of emotional security and contentment are increased.
Our Bodies Hold the Patent
The body produces and releases Oxytocin in response to arousal, loving gestures and moments of intimate connection. And once the connection is made, the mere smiling face of that loved one can trigger the substance’s release. Because there are significant benefits to Oxytocin’s release, yes, scientists have cracked its code and manufactured synthetic versions. But Oxytocin is destroyed in the GI tract so when it’s not naturally produced, it must be injected or inhaled. In the case of this hormone, once it is secreted by the pituitary gland it is not reabsorbed by the brain. Likewise, synthetic versions of the hormone do not live long in the bloodstream and, for the most part, also do not successfully penetrate the blood brain barrier. For this reason, nasal spray forms have been used in the majority of behavioral studies on Oxytocin; but the reviews of their influence on mood and emotional expression have been mixed. Intravenous forms have been more successfully used to induce labor and support the birth process. However manipulating and interfering with the body’s natural Oxytocin cycle is a tricky thing that can lead to some adverse reactions. Consequently, many health professionals are hesitant to recommend synthetic Oxytocin as treatments for behavioral and reproductive disorders. This leaves the ball in our court. We, more specifically the way we treat one another, are our best means of boosting and maintaining healthy Oxytocin levels. And the more we learn about this substance and its functions within the mind and body, the more we see just how necessary it is to the human experience and evolution.
A Balance Beam
The malfunctions observed by over or under medicating with synthetic Oxytocin mimic those experienced when there is an internal imbalance of the natural form.
Too Much Just Right Too Little
Cardiac arrhythmia Lowered blood pressure Increased anxiety
Pursuit of inappropriate desires Sense of emotional safety Emotional neglect
Obsessive emotional experiences Healthy social bonds Antisocialness
Additionally, balanced Oxytocin levels have been associated with increased learning capabilities, enhanced immune system function, increased pain thresholds, and reduced stress and cortisol levels.
Upping Your Oxy
There are many ways to boost the body’s Oxytocin levels and experience more of its physical and emotional benefits. Hugging, cuddling, and kissing all trigger Oxytocin’s release, but that doesn’t mean that romance is the only way to increase this hormonal flow. Making eye contact with loved ones, showing appreciation for family and friends, and displaying empathy for other people all impact the body’s levels. Generously giving love and freely communicating your joy in receiving it are the very best ways to keep this substance flowing. Seems the romantics were right; we actually do come from love. And more apparent, we will not survive without it.
Until next time…
Take care, show you care and BeWell
- Oxytocin Revisited (psychologytoday.com)
- How to Naturally Increase Oxytocin, and Why This May Help Your Marriage (marriagegems.com)
- Frozen with Fear? How the Love Hormone Gets You Moving (livescience.com)