By Maureen Salamon
Oxytocin and nicotine have much in common. Both calm anxiety. Both light up the brain’s “reward center” – a network of cells linked to pleasure. But oxytocin is clearly the healthier of the two chemicals, and researchers think it may have the power to help smokers “kick butts.”
Oxytocin’s reputation as the “love hormone” is actually the reason why support groups benefit people with addictions, scientists say. Those with bad habits to kick reinforce feelings of safety and trust among peers when they meet to talk about their struggles, a process that triggers the release of oxytocin in the brain.
But nature’s anti-anxiety hormone comes up against a cruel foe among cigarette smokers, since nicotine acts in much the same way.
In a June 2010 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Neal Benowitz explored the evidence for nicotine addiction, noting that smoke inhaled into the lungs stimulates the production of dopamine – a powerful feel-good chemical.
As nicotine stimulates this reward system, it increases the number of nicotine receptors, which emit anxiety-producing chemicals if the smoker tries to quit. Only 3 percent can conquer this strong addiction, Benowitz wrote, explaining why most of the 45 million smokers in the United States will be lifelong addicts.
Jim Pfaus, Ph.D., a psychologist at Concordia University in Montreal, said oxytocin may have the potential to pull a bait-and-switch on nicotine. But there’s a catch: smokers committed to quitting must be willing to do the necessary work, because no method of smoking cessation promises to be easy.
Paired with an alternate activity, intranasal oxytocin might be able to substitute for smokers’ beloved ritual of lighting up and calming down, he says.
“If you can give oxytocin under the conditions you normally trigger when you get a cigarette, that may work,” Pfaus says.
Therein lies the catch: It’s not enough to rely on oxytocin’s ability to reduce cravings, a property making it a potential addiction-fighter for all drugs. Rather, Pfaus says, it’s the combination of the neuropeptide and an action to replace the smoking ritual long-term that might bring success.
Common stop-smoking aids, like nicotine patches, gum and others, can’t do the job.
“Oxytocin may have a role in that repetitive phase of getting a cigarette, putting it in your mouth and inhaling,” Pfaus says. “You need to simulate the circumstances. You can say, ‘I’m wearing the patch, I’m cutting down . . . that’s good, but people usually relapse. Oxytocin may be really good with alternate reinforcers to stop relapse.”
For a limited time readers can download a FREE copy of The Oxytocin Guide which reveals where to buy this exciting hormone and other potential uses for it by going to www.OxytocinCentral.com
Written by Maureen Salamon. For more information contact Bryan Post, Managing Editor of Oxytocin Central email@example.com or call (405) 476-1983