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Wake Forest School of Medicine doctors studying if the 'love hormone' can help people heal

The National Institute of Health has given Wake Forest School of Medicine $9 million to study oxytocin in partnership with Stanford University and a school in Sweden

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — You probably know the saying, 'love heals all wounds,' but can love truly heal? Scientists are studying how the love hormone, oxytocin, could be a treatment for a variety of things. That study is happening in the Triad.

The National Institute of Health has given Wake Forest School of Medicine $9 million to study oxytocin in partnership with Stanford University and a school in Sweden.

Dr. James Eisenach, obstetric anesthesiologist at Wake Forest, said they'll be looking into how oxytocin can help treat pain from surgery and trauma as well as central nervous disease like autism or anxiety.

He has already been studying oxytocin for years and trying to figure out why women who have a c-section heal much faster than women of the same age who have any other surgery. He said they believe it's because of oxytocin. 

He said this study will include giving volunteers, ages 18-75, doses of oxytocin and measuring its effect in the brain. He said they'll see how strong it is and how long it lasts. 

"We’re looking at the dose of oxytocin and how the dose of oxytocin determines what’s happening in the body and in the peripheral nerves and in the brain," Dr. Eisenach said.

What is oxytocin? 

Dr. Eisenach described it as not only the love hormone, but the social hormone. He said it is released toward the end of pregnancy and causing labor contractions, triggers milk release for breastfeeding and helps with mother and baby bonding. He said it's also believed to be important in all social interactions.

Dr. Eisenach said he hopes this study will answer a lot of questions and lead to new treatments.

"It’s all about helping to speed recovery after surgery or after trauma, how to reduce the risk of chronic pain after surgery and to provide information for people who are studying other diseases like autism, schizophrenia, depression, PTSD, who think that oxytocin might be useful there," Dr. Eisenach said.

Because oxytocin is a natural hormone, Dr. Eisenach said it would have to be made into a form of medication to be used for treatment.

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