23/06/2008

The New Booze?

I opted out of biology classes in school as soon as I could after they had bored me for years with information such as how many teeth different breeds of dogs have and thus don't even have a clear conception of what hormones are. (A short trip to Wikipedia would probably help, but I just can't be bothered. It still hurts, you know.) It is thus surprising that oxytocin makes another appearance on this blog in just a short time (earlier), but Tyler Cowen links to an interesting article, which may or may not be a completely unjustified hype-up of scientific findings:
Scientists in the US found that oxytocin, a natural hormone that assists childbirth and helps mothers bond with newborn babies, helps reduce anxiety and calm phobias.

[...]

Teams in the US, Europe and Asia are now racing to commercialise a drug based on the hormone, which can be produced synthetically.

Paul Zak, a professor of neuroscience at California's Claremont Graduate University, who has tested the hormone on hundreds of patients, said: "Tests have shown that oxytocin reduces anxiety levels in users. It is a hormone that facilitates social contact between people. What's more, it is a very safe product that does not have any side effects and is not addictive."
As pointed out by commenter Amber at Tyler's post linked to above, there actually seem to be a few side effects, but as usual, one wonders how common these are.
Researchers at Zurich University in Switzerland were able to ease symptoms of extreme shyness in 120 patients by giving them oxytocin hormone treatment half an hour before they encountered an awkward situation.

[...]

Millions of people in the UK suffer from shyness, and one-in-10 people say it seriously affects their daily life. Some resort to drink or illegal drugs to help overcome their awkwardness.

As well as being released by mothers after childbirth, the hormone is believed to make people more generous. Research shows that the higher the natural level of oxytocin people have in their brain, the more likely they are to give money to charity and act kindly towards strangers. It has also been shown to increase the level of monogamy in rodents.

There is speculation that oxytocin might be able to help new mothers who have trouble bonding with their babies or orphans whose mental scars from neglect make it hard for them to love adoptive parents.
As noticed, we already have a drug to combat shyness (although I'm not so sure about mothers' bonding with their babies): alcohol. Apart from it not being particularly healthy, the problem with using alcohol to make you more likely to chat up that attractive person at the bar is that alcohol has side effects like making you stink out of your mouth, slurring your words or falling over, none of which will endear you to most persons of whichever your preferred sex is. So this hormone thingy may actually be much better.

And now, people, it gets wild:
It could have other commercial benefits. For instance, it could be sprayed in restaurants to put diners at ease, or be used as an alternative to tear gas to calm rioters.
Expect oxytocin to come to a pub, club or classroom near you anytime soon. Boy, the possibilities seem endless. Go, scientists!

Now excuse me, I'm off to buy some stock.

1 comment:

Doc said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.