The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping The Hormone Of Calm, Love, And Healing Hardcover – 18 Sep 2003
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About the Author
Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg, M.D., Ph.D., is an internationally known scientist at the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. She lectures frequently in the United States and all over the world.
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Dr. Moberg tells us that oxytocin is a brain chemical: both a neurotransmitter and a hormone--which means, as a neurotransmitter, it works within the brain to communicate with structures within the brain and other chemicals within the brain (including serotonin and dopamine)--to create various events and outcomes; and, as a hormone (created within the brain), it communicates with structures throughout the whole body and other chemicals that circulate throughout the whole body to create various events and outcomes. As you may have noticed, I am beyond fascinated with all of this information, and my purpose in writing this review is not to restate the information contained in this book. My review needs to be about "reviewing" this book.
If you are interested, either personally and/or professionally, in birthing, breast feeding, mothering, bonding & attachment, emotional well-being, stress and the mind/body connection with health--as well as relationships and what may be some types of relationship difficulties--I believe you will find this a "must read." Oxytocin, according to Dr. Moberg, is the "yang" to the "yin" of "cortisol" and its effects: comparing the "calm and connection" response from oxytocin with the "fight or flight" response of cortisol: how does it happen, what does it do, how can we use it to our advantage--"it" being oxytocin and the "calm and connection" response it produces. While so much had already been written--and our understanding has been so advanced--about cortisol/stress/fight or flight, until this book, our knowledge about oxytocin and its effects were known to very few--and probably only those involved in research and the sciences.
Dr. Moberg's personal experience when she became a mother peaked her curiosity about the new feelings and experiences she was becoming aware of and she realized that little to no information was available about them at that time. She shares with us that this is what sparked her new professional interest and direction. So this also becomes a story of personal "process" and "professional development" and how, being sensitive to and in tune with our own inner "journey" can have a profound impact on our professional one as well.
I cannot praise this book highly enough. I believe it is on the list of the most important books ever written. And bringing our attention to "calm and connection" when so much attention has been placed on stress and the "fight or flight" response it produces--is a huge contribution to our health, happiness and well being.
I, personally, am a Massage Therapist, and my interest in this book started out as professional. Dr. Moberg writes about what we as Massage Therapists see every day in our practices--the huge benefits to health, happiness and well being that massage produces--for children as well as adults. Now we know that oxytocin has a lot to do with that, as massage is one of the simple and easily available ways that anyone can raise their oxytocin level--and gain all the benefits of that. Understanding the role of oxytocin in relationships also helps me understand how some of my personal history has unfolded, as I am always striving for greater consciousness and awareness in my journey of personal development.
I chose this book for my introductory neuroscience class to help me write a Wikipedia article, as well as to learn more about the effects that oxytocin has in our daily lives. Having an actual doctor as the author certainly swayed my decision when deciding between several books about oxytocin.
Your overall opinion of the book.
I was worried whether or not I would have to read up on oxytocin before hand, but Dr. Moberg dedicated the first couple of chapters to explaining the traditionally known effects that oxytocin has. My worries were laid to rest when she dedicated the first parts of the book to basic physiology for beginners as well a giving knowledgeable readers a refresher course. Overall I enjoyed the book, found it informative while not being a dry read that is common in textbooks.
A synopsis of the parts of the book.
The book is laid out into an introduction talking about the basics of oxytocin and expanding into 5 parts: The Calm and Connection System, Oxytocin's Role in the Brain and Nervous System, Oxytocin's Effects, Connections and The ways We Seek Calm and Connection. Dr. Moberg starts the introduction off by listing several examples of opposites that we commonly think in (good/bad, light/dark), setting the groundwork for the opposite of the fight or flight reaction that has not been as talked about: calm and connection. In general, the calm and connection system may not be have been as well researched so far due to the effects taking longer to respond and harder to isolate. Dr. Moberg partially went into this field of study due to personal experiences as a mother of 4 and experiencing first hand the effects that oxytocin has.
I would say the first part lists some of the traditionally known effects that oxytocin has (in birth, nursing and maternal behavior), with Dr. Moberg conducting her own research after finding evidence that oxytocin plays a much greater role than previously thought (specifically calmness, decreasing stress and playing a role in the interaction between nursing mothers and babies). Along with oxytocin, vasopressin is another hormone that is associated with oxytocin. It is stressed in these chapters that a balance needs to be sought after between stress and calm
The second part of the book focuses more on the physiology of the brain, which Dr. Moberg does mention early on in the first chapter so readers already knowledgeable can move on to the next section. I thought the author explained the basics of the nervous system clearly enough for beginners to understand. There are lots of figures that clearly identifies parts of the nervous systems as well. This section also goes over how oxytocin works in the body naturally, how both oxytocin and vasopressin are produced in the hypothalamus, as well as stimulators and inhibitors of oxytocin.
The third part focuses on the effects of oxytocin injections which have been found by conducting research on animals. Observations (mostly on rats) include increased feelings of interactions and curiosity, increased learning, decreased stress as well as having a calming effect. Differing long-term and short-term effects are also given, probably the most interesting is short-term oxytocin injections increasing blood pressure, but decreasing blood pressure over a sustained period of injections.
The fourth and fifth parts of the book focus more on the traditionally lesser known effects of oxytocin, going over how touch, social interaction, smoking and moderate levels of alcohol have been shown to increase oxytocin levels.
I believe the author is most focused on telling the reader to lead a balanced lifestyle, including social interaction to increase well-being. A simple smile and hug everyday can go a long way to decreasing the effects of stress and stress related diseases.
Explanation of the style and structure of the book.
The author does a good job of leading the reader into each topic, listing real world examples to hook the reader, then going into the more scientific reasoning. What I found helpful was a list of bullet points at the end of each section that would summarize the recent paragraphs.
Some useful or interesting quotes from the book.
"Many of the illnesses suffered by people of all ages are ultimately caused by stress."
"We actually have the key within us, in the potential for evoking calm and connection through the working of a biological system that until now has been hidden in the shadow of the all-too-familiar fight or flight system."
"We humans must begin to think of our health and well-being as our own inner ecology. Our bodies will not continue to work well if we constantly overexert them and exploit their resources."
A summary of your opinions/review.
I was pleased with my purchase, both as an addition to my school assignment as well as for personal reading. The book has opened my eyes for the increased need of touch, which I personally do not do enough in my daily life. Having read the book, I feel the need for social interaction is further strengthened by these scientific findings. I know I personally need to better manage my stress and calm levels to better my health.
I personally also have a much greater appreciation for birthing mothers, which the hormone oxytocin plays a critical role in. I also didn't realize the importance of touch/warmth/increased levels of oxytocin has on newly borns and how it plays a role in physical growth. The findings for cesarean deliveries also surprised me, showing babies receive fewer oxytocin pulses during breast feedings, though the exact reason is not yet known.
A recommendation for potential readers (whether to get, how to read it, or anything else you want to say straight to them.)
I certainly recommend the book for readers interested in a basic understanding of why social interaction and physical contact is so important. This book does not however go into great detail on why some of the activities affect oxytocin, but references are listed in the back of the book by chapter for the curious readers who are interested and have access to journal articles. The reader will have to go through several articles to find the specific reference because the sources aren't cited in the book, but I felt this was not a big deal as it may have taken away from the majority of readers.
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