For the love of canines and coffee

Dr T
Dr T Dr T
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

When I saw a movie called Must Love Dogs was being released in 2005, I knew I needed to see it.

It starred John Cusack and Diane Lane, and was a typical romantic comedy where the two became lovers after meeting in a dog park. I became an instant fan of these actors.

I do believe there are two perks in life that make it all so much more rewarding. One is the love and loyalty of a dog and number two is a good-quality cappuccino (as I sit writing this article in my favourite coffee establishment).

I believe that in heaven we will be greeted by a dog and the smell of a fresh brew.

Oxytocin is a  hormone produced in the hypothalamus of the brain and released after storage from the pituitary gland.

This part of our brain is central to hormone function and balance, and can be seen as the conductor to the human hormone response.

Being a neurotransmitter it acts as a messenger in the nerve system. Oxytocin has always been known as critical in relation to birth and lactation. Its name in Greek means swift birth.

When labour begins this hormone finds its way through the bloodstream to the uterus and stimulates contractions. This leads to engagement of the fetal head, cervical dilatation and birth.

After delivery, it helps to dislodge and release the placenta and then stops the uterus from bleeding excessively.

Bleeding at this point is a common cause of maternal death so here appropriate release of oxytocin saves the mother’s life.

It is for this reason that we have copied and produced oxytocin from nature.

It was first synthesised in 1955, which resulted in a Nobel prize for the creator,  Vincent du Vigneaud. It is injected in high doses after delivery to prevent post-partum bleeding or as treatment in severe cases of bleeding.

 As oxytocin is short-acting we have changed its structure and produced a new drug called carbetocin that works about 15  times longer. A drug called atosiban, which blocks the effects of oxytocin, is also available and is used to stop preterm labour.

Women’s breasts have receptors for oxytocin and as the baby sucks on the breasts a nerve pathway to the brain stimulates the release of this hormone and milk is secreted as the mammary duct contracts.

More recent research has focused on the psychological and sexual function of oxytocin and it has now been labelled as the “cuddle hormone” or the hormone of love.

During displays of affection like hugging, gazing at your baby or even during orgasm there is a significant rise in its levels.

It is thus strongly implicated in human bonding.

When couples in new romantic relationships are compared to single people, sustained increased levels are observed for at least six months.

Though women generally have higher levels than men, higher male levels are related to higher rates of fidelity and men seem to keep a long distance from other attractive women.

Work related to the effects of oxytocin on behavioural conditions like depression and autism is ongoing, and may prove valuable in the future.

Most dog owners feel chemistry between them and their dogs, so the question was raised if oxytocin played a role in this special bond.

When your canine friend gazes into your eyes, it stimulates higher levels of oxytocin in both you and the dog.

Even petting your dog causes this.

Female dogs given oxytocin intranasally compared to ones given saline gazed longer into their owner’s eyes and dogs with higher levels of oxytocin were more adept to respond correctly to human social cues.

It does seem that domestication plays a role in these responses as this response is not seen in wolves.

Oxytocin is not effective if taken orally as its structure is quickly destroyed in the stomach.

So if you were thinking of dosing your date’s cup of coffee with a few drops to ignite a  spark, I suggest you rather look deeply into her eyes and ask her if you can take her dog for a walk.

If she is a cat person, you may end up only as friends! 

Dr T is a registered medical practitioner in Nelson Mandela Bay

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