Love Hormone May Ease Discussion of Painful Topics

Study suggests oxytocin may help couples in therapy better deal with conflicts

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MONDAY, May 18, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Oxytocin may help make it easier for couples to discuss difficult issues, a Swiss study suggests.

Couples in the study were given oxytocin ("the love hormone") or a placebo intranasally before they had a conflict discussion in the laboratory. Compared to participants who received the placebo, those who were given oxytocin communicated more positively and had lower stress levels.

The study, published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry, is the first to evaluate real-time natural couple behavior in the laboratory, noted study author Beate Ditzen.

"[Oxytocin] might help us to pronounce the effects of standard treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, by possibly making the benefits of social interaction more accessible to the individual. But it probably will not replace these standard treatments," Ditzen said in a journal news release.

The researchers said their findings don't indicate that oxytocin should be used as a treatment itself, and noted that the effects of repeated administration of oxytocin haven't been studied in humans.

"We are just beginning to understand the powerful effects of hormones and chemicals released by the body in the context of important social interactions," commented Dr. John Krystal, the editor of Biological Psychiatry. "As this knowledge grows, the question of how to best use our developing capacities to pharmacologically alter social processes will become an important question to explore."

More information

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy has more about marital distress.

SOURCE: Biological Psychiatry, news release, April 2009


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