Love can actually mend a broken heart: ‘hug hormone’ repairs damaged cells after heart attack, study says
- Oxytocin can repair injured heart cells in zebrafish, researchers say
- Could be used for human heart damage, with ‘huge’ benefits for patients
- Longer lasting drugs containing the hormone could exceed its short shelf life
Falling in love can actually heal a broken heart, study suggests.
Our body produces oxytocin when we hug, have sex, and fall in love.
Now scientists in Michigan have discovered that it also appears to have the ability to repair cells in an injured heart.
When someone has a heart attack, their cardiomyocetes, which allow them to contract, die in large numbers.
They are highly specialized cells and cannot be replaced
But the researchers found that oxytocin stimulates stem cells in the heart’s outer layer, which migrate to its middle layer and become cardiomyocytes.
Until now, the findings have only been made on zebrafish and human cells in a laboratory. But it is hoped that one day the hormone of love could be used to develop a treatment.
Our body produces oxytocin when we hug, have sex, and fall in love. Scientists now believe it can heal damaged heart cells (file image)
Thanks to oxytocin, zebrafish can regenerate parts of their hearts, and the researchers found that the cuddle hormone has a similar effect on human tissue.
Study lead author Dr. Aitor Aguirre, an assistant professor of biology at Michigan State University, said: “Here we show that oxytocin is capable of activating heart repair mechanisms in injured hearts in zebrafish and cultured zebrafish. human cells, opening the door to possible new therapies for heart regeneration in humans.’
Cardiomyocetes usually die in large numbers after a heart attack and cannot be replenished.
OXYTOCIN: THE ‘LOVE’ OR ‘HUG’ HORMONE THAT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR TRUST
Oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’, builds trust and generosity.
The chemical is naturally released from the brain into the blood of humans and other mammals during social and sexual behaviors.
It is produced by women during childbirth to help them bond with their baby and stimulates the production of breast milk.
The chemical is also released during sex, earning it the nickname “the cuddle hormone.”
Other loving touches, from hugging a teddy bear to petting your pet, also trigger the release of the hormone.
But previous research has shown that some cells in the outer layer of the heart can undergo reprogramming to become makeshift cardiomycetes.
However, humans cannot do this on their own.
This led the researchers to explore whether zebrafish, which have a unique ability to regenerate body parts such as brains, bones and skin, could hold the key.
While they don’t suffer from heart attacks, their predators are happy to bite into any organ, including the heart.
Zebrafish can regenerate up to a quarter of the organ, due to the abundance of cardiomyocetes and other cells that can be reprogrammed.
The researchers found that within three days of a heart injury, oxytocin levels increased up to 20-fold in the brain.
They also showed that the hormone is directly involved in the repair process of the heart.
Importantly, oxytocin had a similar effect on human tissue in a test tube.
Dr. Aguirre added, “Oxytocin is widely used in the clinic for other reasons, so repurposing it for patients after heart damage is not far-fetched.”
“Even if heart regeneration is only partial, the benefits to patients could be huge.”
The researchers’ next steps will be to look at the effect of oxytocin in humans after heart injury.
The naturally produced hormone is short-lived in the body, which means longer-acting oxytocin medications may be needed.
The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in cell and developmental biology.
Oxytocin is also used to stimulate or enhance contractions during childbirth, as well as to decrease bleeding after childbirth.