What is Oxytocin?
O-X-Y-T-O-C-I-N (pronounced oxy-toe-sin) It’s also referred to as the “love
hormone”, “the cuddle hormone”, and some refer to it as the “anti-stress
hormone”. Oxytocin, a peptide that functions as both a hormone and
neurotransmitter, has broad influences on social and emotional processing
throughout the brain and body. Oxytocin is a peptide of nine amino acids that is
produced in the hypothalamus and released into both the brain and bloodstream.
Functioning as both a neurotransmitter and hormone, oxytocin’s role throughout
the body is widespread. Included is the hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus,
brainstem, heart, uterus and regions of the spinal cord which regulates the
autonomic nervous system, especially the parasympathetic branch (Neumann 2008).
Oxytocin’s role in reproductive functions is well known. Its contribution to
pair-bond formation has been systematically studied (Gimpl and Fahrenholz 2001).
Who can Benefit from Oxytocin?
Everyone! Everyone needs oxytocin. Everyone’s body was designed
to release Oxytocin. Some of us have experienced stress and trauma to the
point that our body’s natural ability to create oxytocin is depleted.
Nearly everyone I know experiences stress to a degree where things that they are
expecting to be pleasant turn into stressful experiences, like shopping with
your children, taking the family vacation, holidays with the in-laws, bath time,
bed time, meeting with your child’s teacher. I hear of these stories every
day. The reason these situations become stressful is because we experience
them in our body as a threat on some level and therefore the amount of cortisol
released outweighs our bodies natural oxytocin response. If you are
mindful enough you can breathe through these experiences, recognize them as
merely moments for growth, take a step back, and then approach the situation
anew and more relaxed. However, if you are like most people, you get completely
caught up in the moment, overwhelmed, stressed out, anxiety increases, and
before you know it what’s supposed to be enjoyable, sucks! Yet, just by
increasing our oxytocin production by just a hair, these same experiences can
become more tolerable, and even pleasant.
Why is Love Important?
Love is the feeling and experience that ties us together. When we experience
too much stress and anxiety in our lives, it breaks down vital relationships and
leaves us feeling lonely and isolated. Adults who are under constant stress and
anxiety experience more bouts of depression, dissatisfaction in life and
increased health challenges.
How Does it Work?
In our stressful and stressed-out society, it's not surprising that science
has focused most of its research on the stress response. But there's another
response that's just as important. Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, the Swedish researcher
who first identified it, calls it the "calm and connection system." In her 2003
book, The Oxytocin Factor, she describes how oxytocin calms the body
while it helps us connect with other people.
Oxytocin influences so many processes of the body/mind that it's difficult to
identify a calm and connection circuit that would be similar to the fear
circuit. But, like the fear circuit, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland play a
central role in the calm and connection circuit. The
hypothalamus is the beginning of the chain reaction that sends adrenaline
rushing through the body. It is the command central for the oxytocin
response. The hypothalamus releases oxytocin directly into the parts of the
brain that handle positive social interaction. It also sends some to the
pituitary gland for release into the bloodstream where it affects internal
Many parts of the brain process positive interactions we have with other
people. What LINKS them is that they all can ‘take in’ oxytocin. There isn’t
one, simple piece of the brain that embodies this calming, connection system.
Pepperdine University psychologist Louis Cozolino has named the group of
structures, the "social brain." That is a simple and effective
way of thinking of it.
There's a unique and very important aspect to the social
brain. Uvnas-Moberg points out that nerve cells that release oxytocin tend to
create a positive feedback loop. If one cell releases some oxytocin, the cells
around it will begin to release it as well. Additionally, the more oxytocin
that's circulating, the more others cells release too.
What seems to happen in the brain is that when we get a positive signal like
a smile from someone, the hypothalamus releases a small amount of oxytocin into
the brain. This oxytocin stimulates cells in the social brain to release still
Oxytocin calms down the activity of the amygdala, reducing fear and anxiety
and helping us to respond to the other person (Kuchinskas, 2009).
In humans, oxytocin is released during hugging and pleasant physical touch.
It plays a part in the human sexual response cycle. It appears to change
the brain signals related to social recognition via facial expressions, perhaps
by changing the firing of the amygdala, the part of the brain that plays a
primary role in the processing of important emotional stimuli. In this
way, oxytocin in the brain may be a potent mediator of human social behavior
What can I Expect from Its Use?
Research findings about oxytocin:
- Oxytocin improves social behaviors in autism. (Sirigu, 2010)
- Oxytocin reduces food cravings. (Kovacs, 1998)
- Oxytocin reduces sugar cravings. (Billings, 2006)
- Oxytocin calms. (Agren, 2002)
- Oxytocin increases sexual receptivity and counteracts impotence.
(Pedersen, C.A., 2002)
- Oxytocin counteracts stress. (Legros, 2003)
- Oxytocin makes anti-depressants effective. (Uvnas-Moberg, 1999)
Additional Natural Ways to Increase Oxytocin:
In Chemistry of Connection (2009) author Susan Kuchinskas provides a list
of natural ways to increase oxytocin. We suggest you implement these practices
often for increased effectiveness.
- Offer a sweet kiss
- Share a warm hug
- Make love
- Have an orgasm (alone or with someone else)
- Sing in a choir
- Give someone a neck rub
- Hold a baby
- Stroke a dog or cat
- Perform a generous act
- Pray or meditate
- Root for your team
30,000 neuroscientists and related
professionals from all over the globe gathered in San Diego, CA for
the Society for Neuroscience’s annual convention. On the agenda was
new research into a huge variety of fields affecting the way we love, think,
interact, deal with illness, and cope with disabling brain injuries. Among the
primary topics of discussion was none other than our famed Oxytocin!
Neuroscientists are discussing the implications of Oxytocin on trust, giving,
advertising and everything else under the moon I would imagine. Dr. Paul Zak,
the neuroeconomist from Claremore Graduate Institute will be discussing his
latest research on the implications of oxytocin on trust behaviors.
So what's this mean for you and I? When the discussion of a topic gains the
attention of neuroscience then typically we can trust, no pun intended, that
oxytocin is about to gain unprecedented attention. I can assure you that major
pharmaceutical companies are already trying to figure out how to more readily
bring the drug to market for off label use. Even though it is now being
implicated in helping with autism, depression, anxiety, and stress, it is still
considered not approved for practices outside of hospital settings for labor and
What is it Useful For?
In the article Central nervous system actions of
oxytocin and modulation of behavior in humans, published
in Molecular Medicine Today, June 1997, researcher Margaret McCarthy pointed
out, "A continuous stress response can ultimately be deleterious and reducing
the reaction under appropriate circumstances has substantial advantages."
Chronic stress hinders the healthy and natural production of
oxytocin in the brain. Such experiences are what lead cellular biologist and
author of The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton, to state that 98% of
diseases and disorders can be attributed to stress in the autonomic nervous
system. When this occurs the ability to relax after everyday stressful events
becomes increasingly difficult. After a period of time, such experiences cause
prolonged anxiety, emotional overwhelm, and in some instances, depression.
Furthermore, reduced oxytocin has even been found in the brains of adult
survivors of abuse. A study of 22 healthy women revealed that those with
moderate to severe exposure to childhood abuse or neglect had lower
concentrations of oxytocin in their CSF fluid as compared to those who reported
no or mild abuse. CSF oxytocin levels were also inversely proportional to the
severity and duration, as well as current anxiety ratings, with a particular
strong correlation seen in cases of emotional abuse (Heim et al. 2008)
Oxytocin plays a vital role in promoting factors that enhance
well-being. First, Oxytocin plays a critical role at enhancing factors within
the individual which promote well-being. Oxytocin induces increase in level of
trust and reduction of fear through modulating the response of amygdala and
other central structures to stress and fear. Oxytocin increases approach and
pro-social behavior and enhances social interactions, as evidenced by human and
animal studies. Oxytocin reduces subjective sense of anxiety, increases overall
calm and is implicated in non-verbal intelligence. Oxytocin is also implicated
in many physiological effects, including reduction in free cortisol levels,
blood pressure, analgesia and pro-wound healing.
Secondly, its effects extend to promote factors that are
favorable to well-being at the interpersonal level. Oxytocin plays a key role in
both the consummatory and the reward aspect of sexual behavior. Oxytocin levels
correlate positively with enhanced sexual behavior, intensity of feelings of
romantic love, as well as mother-infant bonding. Conversely, its dysfunction is
implicated in Neuropsychiatric conditions. Exogenous (Having
a cause external to the body) Oxytocin decreases persistent fear and
over-activation of amygdala as observed in patients with schizophrenia and
related disorders. Oxytocin use also decreases repetitive behavior and improves
response to social cues in autism and dysfunction of Oxytocin receptors as a
risk factor in development of Autism. Oxytocin levels are reduced in those with
chronic depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and in post traumatic stress
disorder. (IsHak, et al. 2010).
Anybody who has ever raised a child understands the inherently
stressful nature of the experience. The challenge of parenting lies not so much
in the actual experience, but rather in the stress-based parental reactions that
are triggered during the process. Parenting causes many adults to experience
chronic stress, anxiety, resentment, depression and anger, seemingly with no
bona fide roots for the intense emotional experience. Yet, research from the
field of trauma implies just the opposite. That in fact, parenting creates an
unconscious playground from which the parent’s deepest, most sensitive
experiences are brought back to life with oftentimes unexpected force and
consequences (Post 2010).
Research has repeatedly implicated the neuropeptide oxytocin
as one of the key hormones involved in parent-infant bonding in mammals, as well
as in a range of social and affiliative behaviors (Gordon et al. 2010). As
such, there is also a noted disruption of the oxytocin response in parents where
depression and other psychological disorders may be present. Parents who have
been taking oxytocin have reported a prolonged and definite experience of calm
in the presence of their child, an absence of anxiety when witnessing negative
behaviors and an increase in ability to respond logically and from an authentic
Sensual Effects of Oxytocin
At our body’s normal level of production, Oxytocin encourages a mild desire to be
kissed and cuddled by your lover. In fact being touched anywhere on the body
leads to a rise in Oxytocin levels. This causes a chain reaction within the
body, including the release of endorphins and testosterone, which results in
both biological and psychological arousal.
Erogenous zones including earlobes, neck and genitals become sensitized to the effect of
the hormone, and the body and mind become receptive and proactive in sexual
activity. It not only arouses blood and the senses, but also promotes a bond of
intimacy and closeness. The cycle continues to fire these pleasure giving
endorphins and hormones and we naturally produce more Oxytocin and feel more
pleasure as a reward.
By stimulating genital areas and causing the nerves to fire spontaneously, orgasm
is reached far easier and more powerfully. In orgasm, male Oxytocin levels
quintuple, while women need higher levels if they are to reach orgasm. And
during peak sexual arousal, the Oxytocin levels become very high indeed. At this
point multiple orgasms can occour.
Oxytocin’s Further Health and Well-being Benefits
Using Oxytocin can also help regulate sleep patterns, and have a calming effect.
Research is ongoing but observation seems to cite Oxytocin’s health giving
benefits lying in its ability to counteract stress and the effects of the stress
hormone cortisol. Nearly every disease and condition is aggravated by stress;
anything that can help counteract the stress is therefore useful.
Oxytocin has a clear physical and emotional power – it is currently being studied as a treatment for Addiction, Chronic Inflammation, Pain Management, and even fighting Cancer! Not only does the hormone increase orgasm in men and women, it has the natural ability to generate meaningful
bonds, calm and in turn increase personal well-being.
With all these positive attributes, it’s no wonder that people love Oxytocin!