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Effects of Partner Support on Resting Oxytocin, Cortisol, Norepinephrine, and Blood Pressure Before and After Warm Partner Contact

Grewen, Karen M. PhD; Girdler, Susan S. PhD; Amico, Janet MD; Light, Kathleen C. PhD

Original Articles

Objective: We examined whether the magnitude of plasma oxytocin (OT), norepinephrine (NE), cortisol, and blood pressure (BP) responses before and after a brief episode of warm contact (WC) with the spouse/partner may be related to the strength of perceived partner support.

Methods: Subjects were 38 cohabiting couples (38 men, 38 women) aged 20 to 49 years. All underwent 10 minutes of resting baseline alone, 10 minutes of WC together with their partner, and 10 minutes of postcontact rest alone.

Results: Greater partner support (based on self-report) was related to higher plasma oxytocin in men and women across the protocol before and after WC. In women, higher partner support was correlated with lower systolic blood pressure (SBP) during solitary rest after WC but not before. Also, higher OT in women was linked to lower BP at baseline and to lower NE at all 4 measurements.

Conclusion: Greater partner support is linked to higher OT for both men and women; however, the importance of OT and its potentially cardioprotective effects on sympathetic activity and BP may be greater for women.

ABP = ambulatory blood pressure; BMI = body mass index; BP = blood pressure; CVD = cardiovascular disease; DBP = diastolic blood pressure; HPA = hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal; HR = heart rate; IV = intravenous; MI = myocardial infarction; NE = norepinephrine; OT = oxytocin; SBP = systolic blood pressure; SNS = sympathetic nervous system; SRI = Social Relationships Index; WC = warm contact.

From the Departments of Psychiatry (K.M.G., S.S.G., K.C.L.) and Psychology (S.S.G., K.C.L.), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and the Departments of Medicine, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Pharmacy, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (J.A.).

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Karen Grewen, PhD, University of North Carolina, Medical Research Building A, CB #7175, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7175. E-mail: karen_grewen@med.unc.edu

Received for publication April 4, 2004; revision received December 16, 2004.

This research was supported by NIH grants HL64927 and RR00046.

Copyright © 2005 by American Psychosomatic Society
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