[Science Solitaire] Want to buy an O?
Forget the usual wares of seduction. Love can now be had in instant spurts now at a reduced price of $49.95/ounce (used to be $69.95). This is if you were to cling to the claims of Vero Labs heralding a certain concoction that contains what has always been on the molecular profile of any love scene: oxytocin.
I visited their website and I must say I have not encountered that much adulation and faith in a molecule. In spray form called Liquid Trust, it contains oxytocin mixed with water and alcohol, and is touted to make life so much better for “salespeople, singles and managers and employees.” Why?
Oxytocin goes by so many aliases in popular science: “love molecule,” “trust molecule,” “bonding/nurturing substance,” or “fidelity key.” This is because oxytocin is consistently among the usual suspects, and in many, the prime one, in scenarios involving affection, trust and bondedness.
About 107 years ago, a scientist named Sir Henry Dale found that something coming out of the pituitary gland of a cat seemed to contract the uterus of a pregnant cat. He was the one who named it “oxytocin” from the Greek word that means “swift birth.”
It was only 47 years later that another scientist, Vincent du Vigneaud, revealed its structural make-up in terms of amino acids. Now that the structure was known, he used the amino acids as ingredients to make oxytocin in the lab (this is what is meant by scientists when they say they “synthesize” stuff.) Both Dale and du Vigneaud were later awarded Nobel Prizes in different years for achievements related to the discovery and understanding of oxytocin.
Since then, science has made definitive links between oxytocin and stimulating childbirth and the coaxing of mother’s milk. This is why this concoction is routinely available and given to pregnant women in labor. However, in the last 10 years or so, science has also found some basis in their experiments to attribute more powers to oxytocin over other “domains of love,” such as in feelings of attachment to one’s partner, fidelity, trust and even generosity. This expanded power is what Vero Labs seems to be exploiting.
Oxytocin has been found to marinate the brains of couples in that stage of bonded attachment. It is released not only during orgasm but also in the cuddles and gestures that sweetly and profoundly animate our loving relationships. But we all know something happens between even the most loving couples across time: affections generally wane for various reasons other than molecular.
Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher did famous research in the 80s that collected and examined data across 58 societies. She found that divorce happens after 4 years if couples have one child and if they have another child, perhaps stay together up to the 7th year. This seems to be the basis for the 7-year-itch that plague couples.
Liquid Trust is banking on what was in steady supply “inside” loving relationships (while they lasted) to boost the chances of singles finding their own. But if oxytocin were that sure and powerful about being the key to love, then those who put their trust in molecules – scientists – would not only be marketing them but using them and earning extravagant praises for being the best lovers on the planet.
But so far, there have been no evidence that scientists, at least the ones who study hormones, are any better than any other profession at love. As far as I know, there has been no mad rush to date scientists because of this. Liquid Trust may mislead you to think it is some kind of love potion that could seduce the man or woman of your dreams independent of the basic raw material that is you.
Oxytocin also seems to play a role in the fidelity of female prairie voles (a kind of rodent) as does another hormone – vasopressin- in male prairie voles. But you have to know that this required even the voles to bond first before those “fidelity” hormones were released in their bodies at the levels scientists found.
Other experiments also found that when oxytocin was sprayed directly through the noses of subjects, the subjects trusted people more and bore risks related to that trust. But take note that they did not go from not trusting to suddenly trusting. It just increased the trust in whom they were already inclined to trust. The seed had to be there. Oxytocin was not the initiator of the trust.
Our emotions indeed have neuro-chemical basis. Even if your thoughts and emotions feel ethereal, they are embodied. They correspond to certain chemicals travelling across our brain parts like microscopic labyrinthine lava lamps. That is why nature invented a head for you. Science may found enough evidence that love, trust, and fidelity elicit oxytocin that in turn, also thrives on those emotions.
But these oxytocin-driven feelings still happen inside a very emotionally complex organism called a human being. There may be other molecules, other processes, other switches that need to be active and silent in many permutations to account for our prized emotions. The things that happen outside your head – like other human beings and your environment, matter as much too. In other words, oxytocin may be one story but it is not THE complete story of love, trust and fidelity.
But you have to give it to mercantile minds to be way ahead of what scientists are really saying. After all, while to discover something is indeed human, I have observed that to sell it ahead of understanding it, is even more human. So here’s to thinking about Os for $49.95/ounce. And there you were thinking “O” stood for only one thing in February. - Rappler.com
Orange splash image from Shutterstock.
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” Her column appears every Friday and you can reach her at email@example.com.