A hormone associated with sexual activity could be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders, according to new research by the Tokyo University of Science.
Oxytocin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in reproduction. It is involved in childbirth and breastfeeding, and is also associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity and relationships.
Often referred to as the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin levels increase significantly during hugging and is linked to the intensity of orgasms.
A 2012 study found that couples in the ‘new love’ stage – or the first stages of romantic attachment – had much higher levels of oxytocin than single people.
While oxytocin is attached to love and sex, it may also have benefits as a treatment for a number of conditions, including depression, anxiety, intestinal problems and, as Japanese researchers have found, the treatment of cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s causes the nerve cells – or neurons – and the connections among them to degenerate slowly, causing memory loss, intellectual deterioration, loss of communication and motor skills, and most often ending in dementia.
One of the main causes of this degeneration is the accumulation of amyloid-beta proteins, which cluster around neurons in the brain.
Researchers at the Tokyo University of Science investigating new treatments for this disease found that oxytocin can also reverse some of the damage caused by amyloid plaques in the learning and memory centre of the brain.
“Oxytocin was recently found to be involved in regulating learning and memory performance but, so far, no previous study deals with the effect of oxytocin on amyloid-beta-induced cognitive impairment,” said study lead Professor Akiyoshi Saitoh.
Oxytocin facilitates certain cellular chemical activities in the brain that strengthen neuronal signalling potential and formation of memories.
Previous studies showed that amyloid-beta hinders some of these chemical activities.
Prof. Saitoh’s team found that oxytocin is somehow able to reverse the ill-effects of amyloid-beta.
“This is the first study in the world that has shown that oxytocin can reverse amyloid-beta-induced impairments in the mouse hippocampus,” said Prof. Saitoh.
“At present, there are no sufficiently satisfactory drugs to treat dementia, and new therapies with novel mechanisms of action are desired. Our study puts forth the interesting possibility that oxytocin could be a novel therapeutic modality for the treatment of memory loss associated with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. We expect that our findings will open up a new pathway to the creation of new drugs for the treatment of dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease.”
Oxytocin’s role in human behaviour is already considered quite complex, and more research is needed to understand what this powerful hormone can do.
And while sexual activity, motherhood and new love are major triggers, oxytocin can also effectively be induced just by being around or having contact with loved ones and trusted friends.
How much do you do to produce oxytocin? What more could you do to ensure you have enough of this powerful hormone in your system?
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