Why is the hormone oxytocin important?

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Oxytocin Print |   Email article to a friend | Last updated: March 31, 2015Oxytocin is a hormone that acts on organs in the body (including the breast and uterus) and as a chemical messenger in the brain controlling key aspects of the reproductive system including childbirth and lactation, and aspects of human behaviour.Alternative names for oxytocinAlpha-hypophamine; manufactured versions – carbetocin, syntocinon and pitocin.What is oxytocin?Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and is secreted into the bloodstream by the posterior pituitary gland. Secretion depends on electrical activity of neurons in the hypothalamus – it is released into the blood when these cells are excited.The two main actions of oxytocin in the body are contraction of the womb (uterus) during childbirth and lactation. Oxytocin stimulates the uterine muscles to contract and also increases production of prostaglandins which increase the contractions further. Manufactured oxytocin is sometimes given to induce labour if it has not started naturally or it can be used to strengthen contractions to aid childbirth. In addition, manufactured oxytocin is often given to speed up delivery of the placenta and reduce the risk of heavy bleeding by contracting the uterus. During breastfeeding, oxytocin promotes the movement of milk into the breast, allowing it to be excreted by the nipple. Oxytocin is also present in men, playing a role in sperm movement and production of testosterone by the testes.More recently, oxytocin has been suggested to be an important player in social behaviour.

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