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Oxytocin... also good for reducing alcohol-induced motor impairment

Oxytocin and alcohol Oxytocin is a peptide produced primarily by the hypothalamus, a region of the brain linking the nervous and endocrine systems through the hypophysis or pituitary gland. It is released directly into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland for transport to other parts of the brain and to the spinal cord. This hormone is scientifically recognised for restoring and boosting sexual fulfilment, enhancing feelings of pleasure, closeness, sociability, kindness, tenderness, romantic relationships and trust between friends and lovers. But the very latest research suggests it could also reduce the effects of alcohol on motor coordination.

A team of researchers from the University of Sydney has just demonstrated in rats that taking oxytocin prior to consuming alcohol reduces motor impairment, lack of coordination (ataxia) and sedation by preventing the alcohol (ethanol) from accessing, as it would normally do, specific sites in the brain called delta-subunit GABAA receptors. These brain sites are involved in movement coordination and are thus protected from the effects of alcohol by the prior consumption of oxytocin. Michael T. Bowen and colleagues divided the rodents into three separate groups. One group was given oxytocin prior to alcohol, another group received alcohol alone, and a third was given neither. The results clearly showed that those rats given oxytocin before alcohol scored just as well in coordination tests as the ‘sober’ rats who had received nothing.
Published at the end of February in the journal PNAS, this is the first study to provide evidence that oxytocin can interact with delta-subunit GABAA receptors instead of ethanol.
Recent clinical and preclinical studies have already shown that oxytocin reduces alcohol cravings and this new study reveals an important and hitherto unidentified mechanism behind this effect.
The researchers suggest that the observed interaction between oxytocin and ethanol at a cellular level could prove to be a starting point for the development of new treatments for intoxication and alcohol dependency. They also believe that taking oxytocin could neutralise the effects on speech and cognition in humans of heavy alcohol consumption.
However, it is important to note that while taking oxytocin prior to consuming alcohol may well reduce alcohol-induced motor impairment in humans, it does not lower blood alcohol levels nor counteract the harm done by long-term heavy drinking. It may thus prove to be a useful ‘crutch’ after a drunken evening but in no way will it enable you to get behind the wheel and drive home!
As for the oxytocin itself, the nasal spray form has immediate and long-lasting effects and is strongly recommended over sublingual or oral forms.
Michael T. Bowen, Sebastian T. Peters, Nathan Absalom, Mary Chebib, Inga D. Neumann, and Iain S. McGregor. Oxytocin prevents ethanol actions at {delta} subunit-containing GABAA receptors and attenuates ethanol-induced motor impairment in rats. PNAS 2015 ; published ahead of print February 23, 2015, doi:10.1073/pnas.1416900112
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