Tag Archives: Mental health

The Substance of Love

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.

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-neurophysin complex based on: "C...
Image via Wikipedia

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

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin

http://www.oxytocin.org/oxytoc/love-science.html

http://www.delawareonline.com/

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Getting to Know You

Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly alarmed and even saddened by the number of advertisements I see on television offering legal assistance to those adversely affected by some not so long ago hyped pharmaceuticals. Birth defects caused by antidepressants that are more than likely still being marketed and recommended by medical professionals. Really?

I know I shouldn’t be shocked. It is common knowledge that drugs have side effects. But, still I am. And what saddens me is that with all the technological advancements of our time, we seemingly remain in the dark ages about the human body, the human psyche, our bodies, our needs.

The point of this blog has never been and will not become to assault the pharmaceutical industry as I know from both education and experience that there are times when the possibility, often enough only remote, of encountering a drug’s side effects pale in comparison to the ailment we are facing and fighting. But there are also times when we, me included, are choosing the easy and seemingly quick way out. More focused on the symptoms and complications they create in our lives rather than taking the time to dig and look more deeply into the illness or prolonged condition. Yes, unfortunately sometimes we just don’t have that luxury. But when we do, are we really exercising that option to its fullest? Personally speaking, not nearly enough; so, I must take us back to my earliest lessons in wellness and healing. Know thy self.

Become an expert on you. As my grandmother once said, “…they give M.D.s to those with C’s as well as A’s”. Doctors and health professionals are human and thus capable of error. Scientific research and studies reveal new information all of the time and previously held notions frequently get shot down in the crossfire.  What should be relied upon is the time and experience we’ve gained living in our skin.

Where to start?

Observation is the natural first step in developing awareness. And there are not only physical observations to be made but also the more subtle ones of our mental and emotional states, our behavior and even our lifestyles. As I write this it comes to me that maybe beginning with our lifestyles and backtracking through our behavioral responses and their resulting emotional, mental and physical experiences may be the more efficient way to get re-acquainted with ourselves. We can start the process with some simple questions.

My Lifestyle

  • What are my daily, weekly, monthly, etc. commitments and responsibilities? i.e. rent/mortgage, tuitions, debt/loan payments, care-taking of others, volunteer work, professional and/or school deadlines, social group meetings
  • Which are the busiest times of my day, week, month, etc?
  • When, what and how do I eat, drink, sleep, relax, and recover?
  • What do I enjoy the least and the most?
  • When do/have I felt at my physical, mental and emotional best? Worst?
  • What do I worry most about? Least about?

My Behavior

  • How do I fulfill my commitments and responsibilities? i.e. fulltime work week, overtime, second job, time and/or service bartering, hired assistance, night and weekend schooling
  • How do I celebrate my accomplishments, handle my disappointments, and manage my stressors?
  • What are my healthiest and unhealthiest habits?
  • Do I have vices? Do I know and respect my limits with them?
  • Do I judge myself? What are my judgments?

My Experience

  • How do I feel at the end of my day, week, month…?
  • How do I feel when I am challenged, when I succeed, when I please others, and when I disappoint?
  • Where do I hold the most and least tension in my body?
  • What part of my body ails me the least, the most?
  • Do I want or need help changing, stopping, starting or improving any condition in my health and wellbeing?
  • What do I need?
  • Who do I trust to help me?

Some of the above may seem too obvious for review; while others may be too complex to merely bullet in a list. Look at them as opportunities to go further down the rabbit hole, if you will. Examining the demands of our routines can reveal the greatest assets and vulnerabilities within our lives and even help us get to the root of the conditions that plague us. At the very least, we become more informed of our beliefs, tendencies and preferences and are therefore better able to select and work with our health care professionals from prevention to diagnosis and treatment. For more detailed guidance in the area of self-awareness and self-care, check out the Memory Minder Personal Health Journal  by F.and D. Wilkins and the Wellness Workbook by Travis and Ryan. Until next week…

Take Notice, Take Note and BeWell