Oxytocin goes by many names: the love hormone, trust hormone, cuddle hormone and alpha-hypophamine. As you might’ve surmised, oxytocin is a hormone found in both humans and animals. Its nicknames tell you that this hormone plays a role in how we bond and interact with others. Other than creating feelings of acceptance and connection, there’s other health benefits to maintaining higher levels of oxytocin.
What is oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary gland. Many factors cause your posterior pituitary gland to release oxytocin, such as cuddling, socially bonding and even playing with your pet.
Medical experts believed only women produced oxytocin for a long time, but this hormone performs essential functions in both the female and male bodies. For women, oxytocin plays an invaluable role during the childbirth process and while breastfeeding after the fact. It’s also connected to maternal bonding, helping new mothers build relationships with their babies.
Oxytocin helps men with building relationships and maintaining these bonds. During a 2012 study where dads received oxytocin via a nasal spray, data indicated that these men spent more time playing with their five-month-old babies than those fathers who didn’t receive the nasal spray. Additionally, oxytocin improves sperm motility and the production of testosterone.
Benefits of oxytocin
Our bodies rely on oxytocin. From childbirth to muscle mass retention, there’s numerous benefits to having this hormone flowing in our bloodstream.
- Oxytocin improves social bonding and relationship building by increasing feelings of trust, so a person feels more comfortable getting to know strangers.
- This hormone better equips people to cope with stress by making them more relaxed. When oxytocin is present in your bloodstream, the feelings you experience are the exact opposite of those triggered by our natural fight, flight, and freeze responses.
- While there’s no oxytocin in food, this hormone helps regulate the appetite. Also, certain foods can trigger oxytocin production.
- Oxytocin plays a vital role in childbirth by strengthening labor contractions, controlling bleeding and producing prostaglandins, another natural chemical the body makes to move the labor process forward.
- After giving birth, a new mother’s body produces oxytocin to support breastfeeding while keeping her calm when dealing with a screaming infant.
- Research from the University of California hypothesizes that oxytocin helps people maintain and repair health muscle mass as they age.
- A person may experience more intense feelings of joy, forgiveness, generosity, and security with higher oxytocin levels in the bloodstream.
Methods for increasing oxytocin production
As scientists discover more about oxytocin, people are increasingly interested in boosting production of this hormone. There’s a number of activities that stimulate the hypothalamus to produce oxytocin.
- Physical contact
- Eye contact
- Giving and getting presents
- Enjoying a meal with people you like and/or love
- Petting your dog, cat or other pet
- Telling someone you love them
- Physical activity with another person (walking, working out, etc.)
- Looking at photos and videos of people you love
- Talking with someone you trust
- Listening to soothing music
- Eating foods like chocolate, avocado, fish or coffee
Manufactured oxytocin products
Manufactured versions of this hormone called carbetocin, syntocinon and pitocin are available in injectable supplements and sprays for those interested in increasing their oxytocin levels. Since the digestive tract breaks down oxytocin, there’s no oral method for boosting oxytocin currently. It must either be administered by direct injection into your bloodstream or via the nasal cavity.
Preliminary research indicates that these products may help address social and emotional challenges related to autism, Asperger’s disorder, social anxiety, schizophrenia and depression. It’s believed that when the body doesn’t create enough oxytocin, there’s an increased likelihood that the person will suffer from one of these conditions.
However, you must find a healthy balance of oxytocin. While there’s no clear indication of what can happen when oxytocins levels exceed the normal, early research links this to benign prostatic hyperplasia, a condition that makes urination difficult.
There’s still a lot of research needed before we fully understand the benefits of oxytocin and the various methods of increasing the hormone’s presence in our systems. Until we know more, boost oxytocin levels naturally by hugging the person you love, having a deep conversation with him/her, sharing some chocolate with this person or giving that individual a small gift. Snuggle up with your pets while listening to music that calms you. Watch a movie that always makes me laugh. Whatever activity you choose, we’re confident you’ll feel much better afterward.