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The love hormone oxytocin relieves stress-related digestive issues

The love hormone oxytocin plays an important role in how the body responds to stress, according to a new study from The Physiological Society. In particular, the study shows that oxytocin helps to remedy stress-related digestive problems.

The researchers explain that stress triggers and exacerbates the symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders, such as delayed gastric emptying, or how quickly food leaves the stomach. These conditions are characterized by diarrhea, bloating, discomfort, and nausea.

Scientists theorize that oxytocin, which is a neurotransmitter released from the hypothalamus, allows the body to adjust to highly emotional situations. It is known to counteract the effects of stress through chemical messages in the brain. 

Oxytocin is referred to as the love hormone due to its involvement in child birth, breastfeeding, sexual activity, empathy, and social bonding.

In the current study, the experts used new ways to manipulate the neurons and nerves that are influenced by oxytocin when it is produced. They also measured the relevant connection between stress and gastric emptying. 

The investigation has revealed that oxytocin circuits play a major role in the response of the stomach to stress. These circuits were found to reverse the delay in gastric emptying that occurs normally in response to stress by increasing muscle contractions of the stomach. 

By contrast, when the oxytocin circuits were suppressed, the body’s adaptation to stress was also inhibited.

The findings indicate that oxytocin directly influences the neural pathways involved in the gastric response to stress. When the body is unable to adapt to stress, the symptoms of many gastrointestinal disorders are triggered and even exacerbated. It is important fur experts to understand how stress affects the stomach in order to effectively treat these disorders.

“Women are more vulnerable to stress and stress-related pathologies, such as anxiety and depression, and report a higher prevalence in gastrointestinal disorders,” said study co-author R. Alberto Travagli. “Our previous studies showed that vagal neural circuits are organized differently in males versus females.”

“We are now finalizing a series of studies that investigate the role and the mechanisms through which oxytocin modulates gastric functions in stressed females. This will help to develop targeted therapies to provide relief for women with gastrointestinal disorders.”

The study is published in the journal The Journal of Physiology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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