If cupid had studied neuroscience, he’d know to aim his arrows at the brain rather than the heart. Recent research suggests that for love to last, it’s best he dip those arrows in oxytocin. Although scientists have long known that this hormone is essential for monogamous rodents to stay true to their mates, and that it makes humans more trusting toward one another, they are now finding that it is also crucial to how we form and maintain romantic relationships.
5-HTP has been linked in very rare instances to a condition known as EMS, or eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, which combines extreme muscle tenderness with abnormalities in the blood. A contaminant that was found in some tryptophan supplements in the late 1980s, and was linked to a small number of EMS cases, was also found in some 5-HTP supplements. It’s important to talk with your doctor before you begin taking 5-HTP or any other supplement, and to make sure you’re getting your supplements from a reliable provider.
For example, when a mother is nursing her baby, that stimulation from the breast is going into the brain and causing those oxytocin neurons to fire and release oxytocin directly into the brain. That's much more powerful than what happens with a nasal spray. So I think that, you know, in the future, we may have these drugs that can, in a very potent way, tap into this oxytocin system to treat many different kinds of disorders.
In a landmark 1979 study3, Cort Pedersen and Arthur Prange at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill showed that giving oxytocin to virgin rats could trigger maternal behaviours: the animals would build nests, lick or crouch over unfamiliar pups and even return lost pups to the nest. Researchers went on to show that oxytocin signalling in the brains of prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) helps the animals to form lifelong pair bonds4 — a rarity among mammals. In 2012, researchers even found a version of oxytocin in the tiny roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, where it helps the animals find and recognize mates5.
It turns out the love hormone oxytocin is two-faced. Oxytocin has long been known as the warm, fuzzy hormone that promotes feelings of love, social bonding and well-being. It's even being tested as an anti-anxiety drug. But new Northwestern Medicine® research shows oxytocin also can cause emotional pain, an entirely new, darker identity for the hormone.
Letdown reflex. In lactating (breastfeeding) mothers, oxytocin acts at the mammary glands, causing milk to be ‘let down’ into a collecting chamber, from where it can be extracted by compressing the areola and sucking at the nipple. Sucking by the infant at the nipple is relayed by spinal nerves to the hypothalamus. The stimulation causes neurons that make oxytocin to fire action potentials in intermittent bursts; these bursts result in the secretion of pulses of oxytocin from the neurosecretory nerve terminals of the pituitary gland.
“Further analysis by gender revealed that females in the 5-HTP group had a significantly lower panic rate and intensity of cognitive symptoms whereas, in males, the effect of 5-HTP was limited to lowering the intensity of somatic panic symptoms. Thus, an increased availability of 5-HT may have a gender-dependent protective effect in CCK-4-induced panic.”
5-HTP helps the body to produce more serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating mood and sleep-wake cycles. Healthy levels of serotonin contribute to a positive mood and outlook and also promote restful sleep. Serotonin also plays an important role in many other of the body’s functions, including digestion, appetite, and pain perception.
The uterine-contracting properties of the principle that would later be named oxytocin were discovered by British pharmacologist Sir Henry Hallett Dale in 1906, and its milk ejection property was described by Ott and Scott in 1910 and by Schafer and Mackenzie in 1911. In the 1920s, oxytocin and vasopressin were isolated from pituitary tissue and given their current names. The word oxytocin was coined from the term oxytocic, Greek ὀξύς, oxys, and τοκετός , toketos, meaning "quick birth".
Horvath, G. A., Stockler-Ipsiroglu, S. G., Salvarinova-Zivkovic, R., Lillquist, Y. P., Connolly, M., Hyland, K., Blau, N., Rupar, T., and Waters, P. J. Autosomal recessive GTP cyclohydrolase I deficiency without hyperphenylalaninemia: evidence of a phenotypic continuum between dominant and recessive forms. Mol.Genet.Metab 2008;94(1):127-131. View abstract.
However, as I’ve said elsewhere, depression is kind of like a check engine light on car, it’s a quiet ambiguous sign that something is not working somewhere in your neurobiology. There is literally dozens (perhaps hundreds) of different ways to attempt to treat depression. Amongst the vast number of options for treating depression, there is a couple of low hanging fruits; things you would want to start with before moving onto more radical options, like…
Obesity. Early research suggests that taking 5-HTP might help reduce appetite, caloric intake, and weight in obese people. Other research suggests that using a specific mouth spray containing 5-HTP and other extracts (5-HTP-Nat Exts, Medestea Biotech S.p.a., Torino, Italy) for 4 weeks increases weight loss by about 41% in overweight postmenopausal women.