Research suggests oxytocin has heart-healing properties

3 mins
30 Sep 2022
Research suggests oxytocin has heart-healing properties

That’s right, the love hormone might just be able to fix broken hearts! Here’s how...

You know when you’re sitting somewhere watching the sunset with your friends and the world just feels nice? The smells are good and the views are good and the grass or the sand you’re sitting on feels good and you just want to sort of say aloud “ah this is really nice”? That’s oxytocin, a hormone released in our brain (technically therefore, a neurohormone). It’s the same chemical that makes us all want to have a nice cuddle after sex. It’s nicknamed the love hormone for that very reason.

Anyway, it turns out that oxytocin might have heart-healing properties too. Some clever people over at Michigan State University recently found what they’re calling an “unsuspected function” of the chemical. The discovery is that in zebrafish (and perhaps more relatably, human cell cultures) oxytocin “stimulates stem cells derived from the heart’s outer layer (epicardium) to migrate into its middle layer (myocardium) and there develop into cardiomyocytes, muscle cells that generate heart contractions”, as they wrote alongside their findings in this academic journal, today.

To break it down a bit, essentially scientists have realised it can make the heart self-repair in some instances. The discovery is especially exciting to those who know what they’re on about, because they feel that one day oxytocin could be used to promote the regeneration of the human heart after a heart attack. Heart attacks are incredibly common. In the UK someone suffers with a heart attack every five minutes, and sadly about 30% of heart attacks are fatal at the moment (though back in the 1960s they were seventy per cent fatal, so we’re improving).

The breakthrough results show that oxytocin is pretty great at making some cells turn into cardiomyocytes (the cells that make contractions in the heart, and therefore allow it to beat properly). Those cells die off rapidly after a heart attack, and don’t naturally repair, which is often why they are fatal. So the idea is, if we can find a way to use oxytocin to turn other cells into these super important ones, lives could be saved.

The problem is, we don’t yet know how to do that. Buuuuut, remember we mentioned Zebrafishes randomly earlier? Well, they’re pretty miraculous things. Along with looking cool, they’re able to regenerate a load of their body parts, including the brain, internal organs, bones, their retinas, skin and their heart (even if some hungry predator has bitten a quarter of it away). They do this in part by regenerating those cells we mentioned, in the same way that oxytocin can. So the idea is to study these fish to see if we can borrow whatever it is they do to help us artificially repair organs too. The same studies suggest their secret ingredient is, you guessed it – oxytocin.

So yeah, one day, the love hormone could actually heal our hearts (and aren’t fish clever!)

Oh and yes, in case you were wondering, MDMA causes oxytocin to flood our brains. It’s part of the many chemical reactions responsible for the euphoria and happiness ‘Molly’ is associated with. Although it’s worth remembering, this is only one of the many things that happens on MDMA, and it’s illegal.

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