Saturday, February 14, 2015

Discovery Central - Valentine's Day Special - Oxytocin, The Love Hormone

If I ask you a definition of love, what would you say? Well, this is an unanswerable question without a doubt. We can give plenty of descriptions about this, and one I personally like is the quote/struck phrase:

Love is like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention towards other things it will come and softly sit on your shoulder. And be careful when you get it: hold it too much and you’ll squeeze it, don’t hold it enough and it’ll fly away.

Pretty mawkish, isn't it? We can say that love is just a way to complicate our lives. But we can also talk about love like a philosopher would do, just like the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, who said this about love:

Love is a social code in which two people exchange expectations for the future. In a relationship you need to show your unique and irreplaceable self to the other. And If the other loves you, he recognize this self in your eyes.

Just like a mirror. And the meaning of your life is the life of your loved one. If she lost a tooth, you only see her smile. If he’s bald, you only see his eyes. But what’s the real problem? Love is extremely fragile and just a little crack is enough to let it end. In fact Niklas Luhmann also said:

Love inevitably ends, quicker that beauty , therefore faster than nature. And the end is conditioned by itself . Love lasts only for a short time and its end compensates for the lack of any other limit . The very essence of love, excess, is the foundation of its end.

If you have ever fallen in love you know what this is. Clearly, if a relationship lasts for many years without novelty, love is replaced with boredom. On the other hand, when a love story is not going very well, disappointment will inevitably come. Briefly, Love inevitably ends, always (today I’m giving a hopeful message). But this is just the psychological aspect. And Discovery Central is all about biological functions.

In our brain there’s a portion, called hypothalamus, which controls everything, without having any fun. However, the hypothalamus has more control over sexual desires than feelings. And this is why love and sex are not the same thing, otherwise all the porn sites would be full of people in love.
Talking about feeling the real main molecule is an hormone called Oxytocin. This is just like a powerful love potion with amazing functions. This is increasingly being seen as a brain chemical that does a lot more than just bring couples closer together. New research suggested that oxytocin plays a crucial part in let us forge and strengthen our social relations, but also in helping us to avoid or solve a number of psychological and physiological problems as well. And these are just few of the love-friendly function it has. And believe it or not, today you will discover this molecule has a dark side. But let’s start from the beginning.

First of all, it's extremely easy to get. One of the great things about oxytocin is that your body can release it anywhere and at any time. All you need to do is simply hug someone or shake their hands. The simple contact will cause your brain to release low levels of oxytocin. It's a near-instantaneous way to establish trust.  And the good news is that the effect has a very light limit. There's even evidence that simply gazing at someone will do the trick — or even just thinking about someone. Of course this is valuable for humans and for animals, so hugging your pet is a fantastic idea.

Often referred to as the "love molecule", oxytocin is typically associated with helping couples establish a bigger sense of intimacy and attachment. Oxytocin, along with dopamine and norepinephrine, are believed to be highly critical in human pair-bonding. It also increases the desire for couples to gaze at one another, it creates sexual arousal, and it helps males maintain their erections. When you're sexually aroused or excited, oxytocin levels increase in your brain significantly. And during the orgasm itself, the brain is flooded with oxytocin. And it can be called a love potion that's built right inside us, and maybe this molecule is a logic explanation for why some couples like to cuddle after making love.

Oxytocin also helps you to be a good mother. So it isn’t limited to couples. Oxytocin is an indispensable part of childbirth and mother-child mutual feelings. It helps women get through labor by stimulating uterine contractions, which is why it's sometimes administered during labor. It's been known to promote delivery and speed up contractions. After birth, mothers can establish intimacy and trust with their baby through gentle touches and even a loving gaze. In addition, mothers can pass on oxytocin to their babies through breast milk. And it's interesting to notice that even fathers can benefits from oxytocin as well; new dads who are given a whiff of oxytocin nasal spray are more likely to encourage their children to explore during playtime and are less likely to be rough.

Oxytocin reduces social fears. Given its ability to break-down social barriers, induce feelings of optimism, increase self-esteem, and build trust, oxytocin can help people overcome their social inhibitions and fears. Studies are showing that it may be effective against debilitating shyness, or to help people with social anxieties and mood disorders. It can be also helpful for people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Stress and Pain Relief.  Amazingly, a rise in oxytocin levels can relieve pain — everything from headaches, cramps and overall body aches. Now, that being said, the trick is to get some oxytocin action while you're in pain — which is not so easy. This is where synthetics can certainly help. Alternately, if you find yourself in physical discomfort, you could always ask your friends for a hug. And not surprisingly, given its ability to alleviate social anxiety and produce feelings of trust, oxytocin has the ability to reduce stress — which is no small thing when you consider  all the problems we have in our life everyday. Oxytocin has been observed to reduce cortisol in the body and lower blood pressure. It's also been known to improve digestion, which is often disturbed by high stress levels. Interestingly, oxytocin and the oxytocin receptors have been found in the intestinal tract; it improves gut motility and decreases intestinal inflammation. We can suppose it makes you wanna have a great meal.

The disease of the new century. Of course we are talking about Depression and, believe it or not, Oxytocin can also be involved in this. In fact, this molecule was first observed to have a connection to depression through its effects on mothers suffering from postpartum syndrome. Researchers found that low levels of oxytocin were increasing their depression. And then they were able to predict some cases of postpartum depression before the birth of the child. Recent studies of blood levels and genetic factors in depressed patients have revealed that oxytocin has a fantastic potential against clinical depression and anxiety disorders.

The next function can be seen both as a good or a bad thing. In fact, oxytocin has been observed to increase generosity in humans. Evolutionary biologists, particularly those who subscribe to the selfish gene theory, have long struggled to understand why people sometimes decided to be generous. But several lines of research have connected oxytocin and empathy. In a study in which people had to share money with a stranger, injections of oxytocin made some subjects 80% more generous than those without it.

And if all of this was not enough, oxytocin can surprisingly be used to prevent obesity in some instances. Researchers have observed that mice with normal food intake, but with a little amount of oxytocin and oxytocin receptors, become obese later in life. Scientists believe that it might be responsible for a series of beneficial metabolic effects, both in mice and humans. Moreover, by giving obese mice oxytocin injections, their weight returned back to normal levels. The mice also showed a reduced glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. This can be a quite good way to maintain the right weight without particular issues.

Mixing all the functions above, we can correct the definition of “Love Hormone” with “Soul Hormone”. In fact, all of the good emotions we have are connected with this molecule. So it’s clear that we really wouldn't be human without it. But I’m afraid this is not so perfect. Scientists believe Oxytocin may have a Dark Side. And some experiments ensure this theory.

Researchers have discovered it also can promote ethnocentrism, xenophobia, prejudice and violence.

In five experiments 280 male Dutch volunteers first inhaled a spray containing either oxytocin or a placebo (a chemical with no particular functions). In the first two experiments participants hit one button if they saw a positive word such as "wonderful" or the name of a fellow Dutchman on the computer, such as Maarten; they pushed another key if they saw a negative word such as "awful" or a foreign name. These groupings were then reversed—the volunteers pushed one button if they saw a positive word or a foreign name, and the other if they saw a negative word or a Dutch name. Arab names such as Ahmed were used in the first experiment and German ones such as Helmut in the second. The researchers found that in both cases, volunteers given oxytocin were faster at linking fellow Dutchmen with positive words. There was also significant evidence that foreign names were more often linked with negative words.

In a third experiment the scientists investigated the extent to which volunteers ascribed only "noble" human emotions such as admiration or contempt to fellow countrymen or foreigners as opposed to more basic ones such as exhaustion and pleasure. Participants given oxytocin were significantly more likely to associate more noble human emotions with Netherlanders than with foreigners, although they were equally likely to associate positive and negative emotions to either group.

In the last experiments volunteers were given the option to save the lives of five nameless people by sacrificing one other person. These lone individuals either had typical Dutch male names, or foreign ones—Arab names in the fourth experiment and German ones in the fifth. Participants given oxytocin sacrificed foreigners more often than fellow Dutchmen. This isn't because they mercilessly sacrificed more outsiders than volunteers given placebo did—rather, they protectively sacrificed fewer fellow Dutchmen.

The result is that oxytocin makes people prefer their own group over other groups, setting the stage for prejudice and social discrimination. Scientists decided that oxytocin should not be used for recreational purposes. And while oxytocin may help in therapeutic settings, much more controlled research is needed, because there is a lot we do not yet know about oxytocin.

And unfortunately, the love effects of the oxytocin lasts only for three years, and this is the highest amount of time. So, biologically, love doesn't last forever. It can be released again, but not for the same person. And then if she lost a tooth, you only see the hole. If he’s bald, you only see the reflection. So, at the end, we can describe love like this:
Love is a social code in which a person finds the meaning of the life in the life of the loved one. This since there is Oxytocin. 
I’m sure everybody will understand…..WELL, UNTIL THEY FALL IN LOVE.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Random Facts About.... Winter

The cold season. The season when everything sleeps, except for us. There are always lots of conflicting opinions when we talk about winter. Someone loves it, others hates it, most are in between. But you can't deny it has something magical. The bare trees, the snow lightly falling from grey clouds, covering the grass, the freezing cold all around and the grayish sky give an undeniable charm to the environment. Maybe going outside without a heavy coat isn't a smart idea, but looking at the world falling asleep from your window, with a hot cup of tea in your hands and a warm quilt around you, surely is. Unfortunately most of us hates to get up at 6 am and feel the freeze while going to work/school/whatever. But it could be a great idea snooping around some of the unusual and funny facts about this frosty season. So get ready to be curiously frozen with these Random Facts About Winter.

1. Snowflakes start as ice crystals that freeze around small pieces of dust in the air. As they fall to the earth, the ice crystals join together to form snow flakes. The shape of each snowflake is determined by temperature, wind, the amount of time it takes to fall to the ground, and the amount of water vapor in the air. There are billions of different they can join together. So it's completely impossible to find two identical snowflakes.
2. The world’s largest snowflake was reported to be 15 inches across and 8 inches thick. The Guinness Book of World Records states that this giant snowflake was found in Fort Keogh, Montana on January 28, 1887. But this is just a rumor, there's nothing sure. By the time it was noticed, it probably got lost.
3. Are you feeling blue these days? Well, in this case you've a SAD problem. And I'm not being obvious. In fact, the “winter blues” were first diagnosed in 1984. And have recently been named Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). According to the Mayo Clinic, S.A.D. is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you’re like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue in winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.
4.  Snow is not white. Snow is actually clear and colorless. According to the Snow and Ice National Data Center: “The complex structure of snow crystals results in countless tiny surfaces from which visible light is efficiently reflected. What little sunlight is absorbed by snow is absorbed uniformly over the wavelengths of visible light thus giving snow its white appearance”. So, the reflection of all the colors gives a white color as a result, but technically snow is translucent.
5. All snowflakes have 6 sides, And there's a chemical reason behind it, but is going to be a little techy: the oxygen atom has a particularly strong attraction to the electron clouds of the two hydrogen atoms and pulls them closer. This leaves the two hydrogen ends more positively charged, and the center of the “V” more negatively charged. When other water molecules “brush up” against this growing snowflake, strong forces between the negatively charged and positively charged parts of different particles cause them to join together in a very specific three-dimensional pattern with a six-sided symmetry. Each water molecule that joins the snowflake reflects this pattern until eventually we can see its macroscopic six-sided shape.
6. Winter cold kills more than twice as many Americans as summer heat does.
7. Every winter, at least one septillion (that’s 1 followed by 24 zeros, just saying) snow crystals fall from the sky.
8. A New Zealand  group of insects called Weta, considered as some of the biggest in the world, freezes completely solid when temperatures drop during the winter. However, when temperatures warm back up, the insect unfreezes, thaws, and resumes its activities.
9. Other insects, however, don't have the cryogenic skill, and so they have to prepare for winter by creating their own “antifreeze”.During the fall, insects produce more glycerol, which gives their body a “super-cooling ability” by allowing bodily fluids to drop below freezing without causing ice damage. Glycerol also lowers the freezing point, which makes insects more cold tolerant and protects their tissue and cells from ice damage. Their glycerol levels drop again during the spring.
10. The Chinese plum is one of the very few plants that bloom in the winter. It is one of the most beloved blossoms in Chinese art and poetry. Because its fragrance can be noticed even in the winter, it came to symbolize hope, perseverance, beauty, and purity as well as the transition of life.

11. The world's tallest snowman was built to bring attention to the Bethel (Maine) area and allow the total community to come together for a project. The people of Bethel and the surrounding area worked 5 months to plan and build the 113 foot 7 inches tall snowman which broke the former record held by Yamagata, Japan of 96 feet 7 inches. On Wednesday, February 17, 1999 (precisely at 9:30 a.m.) the record was officially broken. Two town officials, a regional photographer, a videographer, a licensed professional surveyor and the president of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce were on hand to verify the actual size and height for the Guinness Book of World Records. My record is actually 30 inches.......but at least I've tried.
12. Chionophobia is fear of snow. The term is derived from the Greek words chion (snow) and phobos (fear). One of the largest components to this fear is the idea of becoming snowbound. A forecast calling for a snowstorm can bring on cold sweats, panic attacks, and even an unrealistic feeling of doom and dread. So they will rarely venture out into the snow for fear of being trapped in.
13. The Southern Hemisphere typically has milder winters than the Northern Hemisphere. This is because the Southern Hemisphere has less land and a more maritime climate.
14. One inch of snow will produce just less than 1/10 of an inch of water when melted. Ten inches of snow will melt down to only 1 inch of water.
15. Even nowadays, the Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia change their names and take on the names of their ancestors at the beginning of winter. They believe this will protect them from the spirits of the dead who return at this time of year.
16. Millions of Monarch Butterflies fly to Mexico for winter. They are the only insect that migrates to a warmer climate that is 2,500 miles away each year. When winter inevitably comes, they like to hibernate in the same trees every year.
17. Winter in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres is caused by Earth’s axis in that hemisphere being tilted away from the sun. Meteorologists often define winter as the three calendar months with the lowest average temperatures. For the Northern Hemisphere, this is December, January, and February. But if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you won't agree with this. In fact, due to the tilt of Earth's rotation relative to the Sun and the ecliptic plane, summer is from December to March and winter is from June to September. September 22nd or 23rd is the vernal equinox and March 20th or 21st is the autumnal equinox.
18. Industry experts have noticed that a colder-than-usual winter probably would not reduce the number of insects for the following spring and summer. What would have more of an impact on their numbers would be an out-of-season cold snap because insects have not yet adapted to environmental change.
19. Some plants, both annual and perennials, require “vernalization” (from Latin vernus, meaning “of the spring”) to flower. This means that a plant needs to experience a period of low winter temperature to initiate or increase the flowering process. Researchers believe this ensures that seed production begins in spring and summer rather than in the fall. After vernalization, plants have acquired the ability to flower.
20. To survive winters, many animals have developed various survival techniques, such as migrating, hibernating, storing food, changing colors, or growing thicker fur. But now imagine for a moment a Siberian Tiger or a European Hare stuck in the snow. Their natural colors, which are perfect for their actual (or summer) habitat would start working against them. In the first case these animals wouldn't be able to sneak up on preys and pounce, and in the latter case they would be a prime target for predators. Luckily for many Arctic animals, this need for camouflage is met by an uncanny ability to change their color to white during winter: the arctic fox, arctic hare, ptarmigan, barren-ground caribou, and ermine all change colors.
21. Bismarck (North Dakota) holds the record for the most snow angels at one time. On February 17, 2007, several schools joined forced to create 8,962 snow angels.
22. The coldest winter on Earth occurs at the Polar Plateau in Antarctica. The high elevations of the Antarctic Plateau, combined with its high latitudes, and its extremely long sunless winters, mean that the temperatures here are the lowest in the world in most years, comparable only with central Siberia in the Northern Hemisphere). The average mean annual temperature is -72.9° Fahrenheit (-58°C). But in 1974, Russia hit -96° Fahrenheit in Siberia during winter, making Russia the coldest inhabited country in the world. 
23. Did you know that a single snowstorm can drop more than 39 million tons of snow, carrying the energy equivalent to 120 atomic bombs?
24. A team of 600 amazing sculptors unveiled at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival held on December 20, 2007 – ‘Romantic Feelings’ – the world’s largest snow sculpture. The Olympic Games were the source of inspiration for the staggering 656 ft long and 115 ft tall sculpture. This magnificent ‘landscape’ was the centerpiece of the festival opened in the Heilongjiang Province, one of China’s coldest places.
25. Many mosquito species live through the winter as adults. In the fall, mosquitos mate, but only the male dies. The females spend the cold months hidden in a protected place, such as an animal borrow or hollow log.
26. Throughout time, snowflakes have fascinated many eminent scientists and philosophers, but the man who literally devoted his entire life to showing us the diversity and beauty of snowflakes is American Wilson A. Bentley (February 9, 1865 – December 23, 1931), the first man to capture snow crystals on film. Known as “The Snowflake Man”, Bentley captured more than 5000 photographs of snowflakes. He received international acclaim in the 19th century for his pioneering work in the fields of photomicrography, because he perfected a process of photographing snowflakes before they either melted or sublimed. Bentley’s legacy is an extraordinarily rich one: a vast library of detailed journals, books, published articles and over 5000 photographs of perfect icy miracles.

And that's it... I hope you enjoyed this Seasonal Article. Now it's time for us to hibernate until Spring. Wouldn't be great to sleep for an entire season. Maybe a little boring, but it could be a funny experience. Never Stop Snooping Around, and HAVE A FROZEN WINTER, but keep yourselves warm. 
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