Oxytocin is called the love hormone, but it’s really an emotion amplifier. Learn how it affects human interaction and how to boost your oxytocin level.
Oxytocin has been dubbed the “love hormone” because it is released when we hug, cuddle, or make love.
It increases trust and empathy to help us form bonds with others.
Some say that if we all produced more oxytocin, the world would be a happier, more loving place.
But as with most things involving brain chemistry, the answer is not that simple.
Let’s take a realistic look at what oxytocin does, examine both its upside and downside, and discuss how you can increase oxytocin naturally.
What the “Love Hormone” Does
Oxytocin is a hormone created and stored in the brain.
The word oxytocin is derived from the Greek words “oxys” (quick) and “tokos” (birth), meaning “quick birth.” (2)
Oxytocin is unique to mammals and naturally occurs during childbirth to stimulate uterine contractions.
It also facilitates breastfeeding and bonding between mothers and their newborns.
It’s released by both men and women during orgasm which strengthens emotional bonds and fidelity between couples.
Oxytocin levels are particularly high in both sexes during those first six heady months of a new love relationship.
This feel-good brain chemical strenthens positive personality traits such as warmth, trust, altruism, openness, and generosity. (3)
Oxytocin shows potential for treating depression, autism, social anxiety, and schizophrenia.
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Don’t confuse oxytocin with OxyContin, a highly addictive, opioid prescription painkiller.
The only thing these two substances have in common is their similar spelling.
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Oxytocin: The Social Emotion Amplifier
Besides being known as the “love molecule,” oxytocin goes by a long list of other monikers.
It seems to enhance the pleasure of social interactions by stimulating the production of anandamide, a neurotransmitter that’s been called the “bliss molecule.” (8)
People who release more oxytocin are happier and have more satisfying relationships.
Oxytocin has gotten a lot of press as a panacea that could bring world peace and turn mankind into one big happy family.
But that’s an oversimplification.
Experts believe that oxytocin is not the ultimate love molecule, but instead amplifies social emotions, both positive and negative, for your own protection.
“In the state of nature, lowered vigilance can bring lethal harm, so the mammal brain is careful about when it releases oxytocin,” explains Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning, author of Habits Of A Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels.
“Touch triggers oxytocin, but an individual close enough to touch you is close enough to harm you.”
Oxytocin strengthens the bond with your “tribe,” be that your family, co-workers, or favorite sports team.
It makes you more protective of your group and surprisingly more inclined to lie or bend ethical rules if you think it will benefit them. (11)
Studies found that those given oxytocin were twice as likely to lie than usual! (12)
Meanwhile, oxytocin creates walls between you and those not in your inner circle by intensifying fear and mistrust towards those not a part of your social group.
These negative oxytocin-induced feelings sometimes get directed at those you love, arousing the green demons of suspicion and jealousy.
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Why You Should Skip Oxytocin Supplements
You may be tempted to try one of the over-the-counter supplements or nasal sprays that are marketed as oxytocin-boosting “love potions.”
But I’d recommend you take a pass.
Paul Zak, a pioneer in the field of neuroeconomics and oxytocin research, explains in his TED Talk Trust, morality — and Oxytocin? that administering oxytocin is difficult since it has a three minute half-life and degrades rapidly at room temperature.
Researchers use intravenous oxytocin or nasal sprays since oral oxytocin is destroyed in the digestive tract. (15)
For these reasons, the effect of available oxytocin boosting supplements and nasal sprays is almost certainly negligible.
According to Zak, the dose needed to produce noticeable effects in test subjects was three teaspoons sprayed up the nose! (16)
He felt that a potential downside of artificially raising your baseline oxytocin level was that it could make you too trusting, gullible, and a ”target for predation.”
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Increase Oxytocin Naturally with Touch
The best ways to get more “O” into your life is with physical touch.
You don’t have to be in love, have sex, or give birth to get a boost of oxytocin.
Non-sexual cuddling, hugging, making eye contact, shaking hands, and simply talking to others gets oxytocin flowing.
Zak recommends 8 hugs a day. (17)
No one around? Cuddling your pet works too.
Playing with or petting your dog increases oxytocin levels in both of you. (18)
Give someone you care about a gift. (19)
It will delight them and boost your levels of oxytocin.
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Get a massage.
While a professional massage is a wonderful treat, it’s not necessary.
Any kind of touch such as holding hands, getting a friendly back rub, or pat on the shoulder can help.
If no one is around, try a little self-massage.
Rub your shoulder, your temples, or that tight spot between your eyes.
Do a little acupressure like the kind used in a therapy called tapping.
Connecting with friends, even through social media, can increase oxytocin significantly. (21)
The Love Hormone Oxytocin: The Bottom Line
Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that’s been dubbed the love hormone because its level is increased when people are in an amorous relationship.
It helps moms bond with their babies and helps couples stay faithful.
But the experts believe that oxytocin is no “love drug” and that it instead amplifies many emotions, causing both positive and negative effects on relationships.
There is little point in trying to increase oxytocin with supplements.
By far the best way to increase oxytocin levels is with physical touch of all kinds.
Sex, hugs, massages, and even cuddles with your pet can give you the warm glow of an oxytocin boost.