Researchers have recently created a synthetic form of oxytocin, or the ‘love hormone’, with supposedly fewer side effects.

In the Medieval tale, “Tristan and Iseult”, Tristan is a knight, and Iseult a princess. The two are at sea, with Tristan being tasked with escorting Iseult across the English Channel to marry his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall.

Already naturally fond of one another, Tristan and Iseult accidentally (or intentionally, depending on which version you believe) drink a “love potion”. This potion, made by Iseult’s mother, was originally intended to help her daughter love her future husband, Tristan’s uncle.

The potion performed its magic, and the two lovers saw their feelings for one another flourish. The story of their fiery and passionate love affair would go on to inspire hundreds of other tales and fables, with many being centered on the mysterious “love potion” and its possible ingredients.

Attempts at creating love potions similar to those in this story are common, with countless pedlars, physicians, and vendors throughout history claiming to have the true recipe for an instant source of intoxicating love.

If you would like to avoid the commonly useless and sometimes dangerous tinctures and snake oils of these salesmen, you may consider an oxytocin shot, a hormone which has often been referred to as the chemical source of love, affection, and happiness.

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I “Hypothalamus” you!

This may not sound so romantic, but researchers have claimed that it is possible to trace the feelings of love back to hormonal secretions in the brain.

Apparently, there’s more to love than just the adrenaline rush that causes your heart to thump for your significant other, and scientists believe they have managed to break down the “falling in love” process that involves a big deal of chemistry.

The link between the nervous system and the endocrine system, the hypothalamus, is a small portion of the brain that really should be seen as the symbol of love instead of the heart.

The hypothalamus is the bandleader of the glands of the brain. It acts as a control center reacting to hormonal, nervous, humoral and other stimuli. In response to these stimuli, it synthesizes different inhibiting or stimulating hormones.

These hormones act either directly or indirectly to regulate many bodily functions such as sleep, menstrual cycle, appetite, sex drive, and emotions.

One of the most important hormones indirectly secreted by the hypothalamus (via the pituitary gland) is “oxytocin”, also known as the hormone of love.

According to specialists, oxytocin is released when a mother is with her child or when two lovers are together and is present in any and all affectionate relationships.

Love in the Time of Artificial Hormones

Oxytocin plays a role in sexuality and fertilization, during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

It is also involved in any relationship-building process by both reducing anxiety and boosting feelings of empathy between individuals.

However, this love inducing hormone can have some dangerous side effects over long periods of time or in certain situations.

A team of chemists from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (at the University of Queensland, UK) has reportedly created a new synthetic version of oxytocin which supposedly produces fewer complications than its natural counterpart.

“The downside to oxytocin is that it activates a number of receptors, some of which can lead to unwanted side effects,” said UQ’s Dr. Muttenthaler. “… such as cardiovascular problems or uterine rupture when used for too long or at a too-high dose.”

This is not the first occurrence of this synthesis as scientists have been able to artificially create oxytocin since the 1950s. It has been used clinically with relative success and some specialists are still exploring its therapeutic potential.

Unlike other synthetic versions of oxytocin and even the natural hormone itself, this new molecule “shows improved selectivity for the oxytocin receptor, potentially reducing dangerous side effects… which indicates improved safety for mother and baby.”

In creating the new hormone, the team slightly modified the structure of oxytocin molecules to reduce the activity of receptors involved in some undesired side effects.

Besides a lead for future drugs, this newly synthesized oxytocin also provides further insight into how these oxytocin receptors work. The research team involved is now seeking funding to further expand their investigation and conduct preclinical studies.

The study on the new compound was published in the Science Signaling.

Do you think it’s ethical for these scientists to be developing new “love” drugs? Or do you think there might be something more to these emotions than just chemicals? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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