Dr. Flechas began to realize a relationship between oxytocin and pain when he asked his patients what helped their chronic pain. One patient responded, “A warm bath,” another that massage helped, a third had hours of relief after an orgasm, and another continued breastfeeding her child for years because of the pain relief it afforded her. As it was already accepted that orgasm and breastfeeding increase these levels, Dr. Flechas speculated oxytocin was involved in relieving pain. Since then, people suffering from the pain of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue have been seen to have low levels, and supplementing with oxytocin has been helpful for a number of them.
The medical community’s reliance on prescribing opioid drugs (i.e. narcotics) to treat pain has been accompanied by a number of pharmacological and social ills, such as debilitating side effects and risk of addiction and abuse. Drugs like naloxone, which have been developed to reverse the effects of opioids in the body, block the opioid receptors. When these drugs are used, however, the action of oxytocin is blocked as well.
There are many other pain treatments being investigated as alternatives to opioids, and oxytocin is emerging as one of these options. Studies have shown that people who suffer chronic pain have been seen to have lower oxytocin levels than those who do not, whereas the pain threshold is higher in individuals with adequate levels. There are also studies that demonstrate that oxytocin helps to relieve pain directly at the opioid receptors themselves.
Symptoms of autistic spectrum disorder include the inability to socially bond, allow hugs, physically touch, or even make eye contact. Children and adults with autism have been seen to have low oxytocin levels, a lack of functional oxytocin receptors, or problems with the enzyme conversions needed to activate oxytocin. Individuals with autism may have unremitting inflammation, identified by monitoring inflammatory markers in the blood. Oxytocin seems to have a role in calming this inflammation.
Due to the rapid effect of oxytocin on nerve cells in the brain, and the vast number of oxytocin receptors there, many mental disorders may have a component of oxytocin deficiency. Learning and memory may be enhanced by adequate oxytocin levels. Oxytocin may relieve difficulties in social situations, and high anxiety might be alleviated by its calming effect.
In Oxytocin: The Hormone of Healing and Hope, Dr. Kenneth Stoller writes about his personal struggle with grief after the death of his son. He was so consumed by the loss that he was unable to work or to function normally. Using oxytocin brought him relief and allowed him to participate in life again.
High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease
As mentioned before, oxytocin relaxes blood vessels by stimulating nitric oxide. Dr. Flechas asserts that atherosclerosis (the hardening and narrowing of the arteries) is preventable by adequate nitric oxide production in the blood vessels. If oxytocin declines or estrogen levels are lowered, there may be a direct effect on the development of clogged arteries. With this in mind, it might be appropriate to rule out oxytocin deficiency before resorting to traditional drug therapies for these conditions.
Not only is oxytocin released upon orgasm, but levels also begin to rise as sexual activity begins. These increases promote bonding between sexual partners. Oxytocin has been used clinically in men for both erectile dysfunction and orgasm and women for inability to achieve orgasm.