If you’ve already been left broken hearted by your Valentine’s Day sweetheart, the answer could lie in a pill, or more likely a spray, containing the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin.
A lot of the research into oxytocin has centered around studying voles. These furry little mammals are actually quite like us when it comes to pair bonding, monogamy, and even it appears, being left broken hearted. Humans and voles belong to only around 5% of mammals that form long lasting pair bonds. For that reason, they have been the subjects of choice for scientists looking at the role oxytocin might play in human mating.
According to Larry Young, an Emory University researcher, voles show all the symptoms of being heartbroken if their partners are taken away from them in the lab.
“A vole that has been with a partner and then you take the partner away, if you put them in a beaker of water for a few minutes, they tend to just float,” he said. “If you hold them up by their tail, they just hang there. They show the signs of despair.”
They just give up on life — basically, it’s not worth it without her.
But for voles at least, there is a cure for a broken heart: oxytocin. It’s a naturally occurring hormone.
Larry Young describes how the power of oxytocin as regards pair bonding is so great, that it can make a mother see even her ugly new born child look adorable. The same molecule, he and other researchers believe, cause the vole and other mammals to form bonding relationships for mating and the rearing of offspring.
Another hormone is produced during the break up of a pair bond – the stress hormone CRF – which completely cuts off the supply of oxytocin. And therein lies the promise of a fix for a broken heart in a bottle (instead of THE bottle).
Those depressed, floating voles, the ones hanging listlessly by their tails, they’re in withdrawal. It’s because of the stress hormone, CRF.
“It really gets loaded when the animals form a bond. But it’s not released. It’s just loaded, like loading a gun,” Young said. “But then when they are away from their partner, that CRF floods into the brain.”
And CRF stops oxytocin production cold. Young thinks it’s maybe a naturally evolved kind of insurance policy. Animal partners, voles and humans, have to spend some time apart to forage seeds or go to class or whatever. That CRF is part of what bums you out, makes you miss the other person, and go back to them to get another fix of oxytocin.