The Union Health Ministry’s ban on the retail sale and private manufacture of oxytocin, expected to kick off on September 1, is an extremely ill-thought-out one. The drug, a synthetic version of a human hormone, is a life-saver for women. Doctors use it to induce labor in pregnant women and to stem the postpartum bleeding. So critical is its role in maternal health that the World Health Organization recommends it as the drug of choice in postpartum hemorrhage.
Oxytocin has also been dubbed the hug hormone, cuddle chemical, moral molecule, and the bliss hormone due to its effects on behavior, including its role in love and in female reproductive biological functions in reproduction.
Oxytocin is a hormone that is made in the brain, in the hypothalamus. It is transported to and secreted by, the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain.
It acts both as a hormone and as a brain neurotransmitter.
The release of oxytocin by the pituitary gland acts to regulate two female reproductive functions: Childbirth and Breastfeeding.
Why is it being banned?
The government’s ban ignores its critical uses and is motivated instead by the misuse of the hormone in the dairy industry. Because oxytocin stimulates lactation in cattle, dairy farmers inject the drug indiscriminately to increase milk production. This has spawned several unlicensed facilities that manufacture the drug for veterinary use.
Much is unknown about the ill-effects of oxytocin in cattle. One of the concerns was that oxytocin leads to infertility in dairy animals, and some studies show this to be true.
It has also been linked to mastitis, a painful inflammation of the udder. Milk consumers worry about exposure to it through dairy products.
Even if the ill-effects of oxytocin are real, a ban is not the answer. The right approach is to strengthen regulation and crack down on illegal production.
Oxytocin is simply too important to Indian women, 45,000 of whom die due to causes related to childbirth each year.