A hormone released during labour dubbed the “love hormone” because it drives attraction between couples and parental bonding could also relieve pain, an international obstetric expert has told a Perth conference.
Studies have shown that oxytocin, released during labour to induce contractions, is also responsible for bonding between mother and baby, Dr Ruth Landau told the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists conference in Perth.
The “love hormone” also underscored human attraction, said Dr Landau, an obstetric anaesthesia expert from the University of Washington Medical Centre in Seattle.
“We have always talked about pheromones, but it probably has to do with hormonal compatibility as well,” Dr Landau said.
“The oxytocin is what’s going to make someone find you attractive and you find them attractive.”
Studies had also indicated oxytocin was responsible for natural pain relief when it was released by the brain and circulated in the central nervous system, Dr Landau said.
However, oxytocin given to women during labour or released naturally to induce contractions does not have an analgesic effect, because it works in a different way, Dr Landau said.
But the discovery that it could be an analgesic would prompt further studies to examine how oxytocin could be best administered, to both and men and women, to prevent chronic pain after surgery, Dr Landau said.
However, she pointed out that not everyone would benefit from this because some people would be genetically resistant to oxytocin.
Interestingly, a disruption of the hormone’s genetic pathway has been linked to autism, a condition which can interrupt a child’s ability to socially interact with others.
Dr Landau said studies had shown that variations in the oxytocin gene had been associated with a higher risk of developing autism.
The hormone is responsible for play in children, but studies have also linked it to gambling behaviour in adults, Dr Landau said.
Oxytocin has also been shown to increase facial recognition, memory, and reduce anxiety in new mothers, she said.