Oxytocin is a hormone that has been known to influence human behaviors such as trust, generosity and social bonding. Now it may be also used to treat pain. As NBC News reports, a new study shows that those who suffer from frequent headaches may benefit from an oxytocin nasal spray.
Some 6 million Americans suffer from chronic daily headache, which is when people experience headaches 15 or more times a month. Researchers at Stanford University’s School of Medicine administered a dose of an oxytocin nasal spray to a group of subjects who suffer from this affliction.
As NBC News reveals, “50 percent reported their headache pain was reduced by half, and an additional 27 percent of these patients reported no pain after four hours. By comparison, 11 percent of patients who were given a placebo spray said their headache pain was cut by half after four hours, and none reported complete pain relief.”
David Yeomans is the director of pain research at Stanford and the lead on this study. He says this treatment could be highly effective for this particular group of headache sufferers. Subjects were chosen because other treatments, such as the drugs Botox and topiramate, did not have any effect on their pain. More research is needed to see if the treatment can have long-lasting effects and if it can help other kinds of headaches.
The urge to cuddle
If oxytocin is the hormone of love, it is possible that it may produce “lovable” side effects? At present, researchers don’t know the long-term effects but say they are better than the known side effects of Botox and pain-relieving opiates. However, oxytocin nasal spray may go beyond head pain and into the realm of emotions. Science Daily reports on a recent study from the University of Haifa that shows oxytocin may promote love and trust, but it also influences behaviors like jealousy and gloating.
Simone Shamay-Tsoory is the lead researcher on the University of Haifa study. As he explains to Science Daily, "Subsequent to these findings, we assume that the hormone is an overall trigger for social sentiments: when the person's association is positive, oxytocin bolsters pro-social behaviors; when the association is negative, the hormone increases negative sentiments.”
Participants in the study were asked to inhale the oxytocin while playing a game. Those who inhaled had higher levels of envy when their opponents won. But once the game was completed, there were no differences in the participants who inhaled the hormone and those who didn’t. As Science Daily points out, this shows that the hormone may have only had an influence during the act of playing the game.
So if oxytocin can also inspire envy, does that mean those who treat their headaches will be the jealous, hugging type? For many, if it means they will be more pain-free, it might be worth the risk of an extra warm, fuzzy feeling or two.