London June 22 : Feeling shy to give a speech in front of strangers? Worry not, for scientists in the US, Europe and Australia are developing a wonder drug from 'cuddle hormome' oxytocin, which they claim could help banish excessive shyness.
Previous studies have shown that oxytocin, which assists childbirth and helps mothers bond with newborn babies, could reduce anxiety as well as ease phobias.
Now, scientists in the US, Europe and Australia are racing to develop commercial forms of the hormone in the hope that it will remove the incentive to drink or take harmful drugs to relieve the problem.
"Tests have shown that oxytocin reduces anxiety levels in users. It is a hormone that facilitates social contact between people. What's more, it is a very safe product that does not have any side effects and is not addictive," Times Online quoted Paul Zak, a professor of neuroscience at California's Claremont Graduate University, as saying.
Zak has tested the hormone on hundreds of patients. Its main effect is to curb the instincts of wariness and suspicion that cause anxiety.
Produced naturally in the brain, one of oxytocin's actions includes heightening the feelings of intimacy after sexual intercourse.
"We've seen that it makes you care about the other person. It also increases your generosity towards that person. That's why [the hormone] facilitates social interaction," Zak said.
Researchers at Zurich University in Switzerland have managed to ease symptoms of extreme shyness in 120 patients by giving them the hormone treatment half an hour before they encountered an awkward situation.
Oxytocin spray has also been successfully tested at the University of New South Wales while researchers in New York found it lessened symptoms of autism, which include agitation.
"Oxytocin does not cure autism, but it does reduce the symptoms. So there is a reduction of anxiety in autistic patients, and the oxytocin can induce them to do things like make eye contact with other people and look at their faces - something autistic people find hard to do," Zak said.
Scientists at Emory University in Atlanta who have tested oxytocin on rodents discovered that male and female rodents injected with the hormone tended to be more faithful to each other than others.
"Our experiments showed that oxytocin had a role in the forming of bonds in partners. Rodents are not normally monogamous, but in the tests the animals with oxytocin tended to stay more monogamous," Larry Young, a neuroscientist conducting the tests, said.