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Chemical of the Week: Oxytocin (or “Cupid’s Secret”)

June 19, 2013

Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone common to many mammalian species, including humans. It is a peptide composed of nine amino acids which is synthesized in the hypothalamus and released from the pituitary. One of the main roles of oxytocin is to stimulate contractions during child birth, hence its name, which derives from the Greek phrase “quick birth.”

The oxytocin molecule.

The oxytocin molecule.

The interesting thing about oxytocin is that it is one of those amazing chemicals which affect mood and social behaviour. It is sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” because elevated levels in the nervous system induce feelings of trust and affection between individuals. Release of oxytocin from the brain appears to be connected with the development of social groups, mother-child bonding and bonding between couples.