Oxytocin Modulation in Mindfulness-Based Pain Management for Chronic Pain

Author: Oytun Aygün1, Emily Mohr2, Colin Duff3, Sophie Matthew3, Poppy Schoenberg2
1 Laboratoire DysCo, Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, 93526 Saint-Denis, France.
2 Osher Center for Integrative Health, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN 37203, USA.
3 Breathworks Foundation, Manchester M4 1DZ, UK.
Conference/Journal: Life (Basel)
Date published: 2024 Feb 15
Other: Volume ID: 14 , Issue ID: 2 , Pages: 253 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3390/life14020253. , Word Count: 284

In the context of chronic pain management, opioid-based treatments have been heavily relied upon, raising concerns related to addiction and misuse. Non-pharmacological approaches, such as Mindfulness-Based Pain Management, offer alternative strategies. We conducted a mechanistic clinical study to investigate the impact of an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Pain Management intervention on chronic pain, the modulation of inflammatory markers, stress physiology, and oxytocin, and their interplay with clinical pain symptoms and perception, in comparison to a patient wait-list active control. A total of 65 participants, including 50 chronic pain patients and 15 healthy controls, underwent salivary assays to assess endocrine markers, oxytocin, interleukin (IL)-1b, IL-6, IL-8, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-a, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEA-S). Psychological assessments were also conducted to evaluate aspects of pain perception, mindfulness, mood, and well-being. Findings revealed significant differences between chronic pain patients and healthy controls in various clinical metrics, highlighting the psychological distress experienced by patients. Following Mindfulness-Based Pain Management, oxytocin levels significantly increased in chronic pain patients, that was not observed in the patient wait-list control group. In contrast, cytokine and DHEA-S levels decreased (not to statistically significant margins) supporting anti-inflammatory effects of Mindfulness-Based Pain Management. The fact DHEA-S levels, a marker of stress, did attenuate but not to statistically meaningful levels, suggests that pain reduction was not solely related to stress reduction, and that oxytocin pathways may be more salient than previously considered. Psychological assessments demonstrated substantial improvements in pain perception and mood in the intervention group. These results contribute to the growing body of evidence regarding the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions in chronic pain management and underscore oxytocin's potential role as a therapeutic target.

Keywords: chronic pain; cytokines; endocrine system; mindfulness; oxytocin; stress physiology.

PMID: 38398763 PMCID: PMC10890287 DOI: 10.3390/life14020253