- 9 ways to send your oxytocin levels sky high
- 9 Beneficial Effects of Oxytocin + 34 Ways to Increase it
- Functions & Benefits of Oxytocin
- 1) Social Interaction
- Social Cues
- 2) Sexual Health
- 3) Mood
- 4) Inflammation
- 5) Appetite
- 6) Water Retention
- Potential Benefits (Lacking Evidence)
- 7) Drug Addiction
- Conditions With a Dysfunctional Oxytocin System
- In-Group Favoritism
- Factors that Increase Oxytocin
- Sexual Behavior
- Natural Substances
- Intergenerational Toxic Effects of BPA
- Oxytocin is a principal hormone that exerts part of its effects by active fragments
- Martial arts increase oxytocin production
- The Top 10 Ways to Boost Good Feelings
- Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation
- Chemical, Morphological, and Functional Aspects
- Oxytocin Receptors
- Pharmacological Properties
9 ways to send your oxytocin levels sky high
'What should I pack in my hospital bag?': as a birth expert, this is the question I get asked the most.
Everybody wants to know the tips, tricks and hacks for the ultimate kit for labour. But here's the news: there is only one thing that you really need when you have your baby, and it's not luxury lipbalm or even disposable pants. It's the wonder hormone, oxytocin, and you literally can't give birth without it.
Also, know as the 'love hormone' and the 'cuddle chemical', oxytocin is the main hormone we make when we fall in love, give birth, breastfeed and bond with our babies. It gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling that we might associate with post-coital bliss.
Oxytocin is so central to the process of giving birth that, if you don't make enough yourself, you will be given a synthetic version of it in a drip. And in this manufactured form, it's called 'syntocinon'.
Fill your birthday bag to overflowing with oxytocin, and you're much more ly to have a smoother, easier and even less painful labour.
Oxytocin's chief job in labour itself is to strengthen and maintain contractions. The hormone is made in the pea-sized part of your brain called the hypothalmus, and it works on a positive feedback loop – the more you make, the more you keep producing. It's a very happy circle.
Understanding more about this wonder hormone is key to a positive birth, because knowing how to get your oxytocin flowing can really help to keep your labour progressing and help if it stalls or slows.
Here are 9 ways to boost your oxytocin levels…
Don’t wait ‘til your contractions start before you begin to think about oxytocin. In the final few days of pregnancy, think low light, low noise and low interruptions. So send your partner to the shops for those last-minute bits and bobs you need for your hospital bag! Take your nesting instinct literally and create your very own nest.
Whether you’re in ward, a birthing centre or at home, build a nest using blankets, pillows, yoga mats and cushions on the floor. When you give birth, you have the same needs as any other self-respecting mammal: you need to feel safe, warm and cosy. If you’re not having a home birth where you can wholly control the noise and who’s visiting, then take proactive action.
Use an eyemask and ear plugs or headphones, so you can escape into your own little world. Most of us have a fairly similar idea of the kind of environment we’d to make love in… candles, log fire, soft rugs, and zero interruptions anyone? The reason we find this sexy is because of oxytocin, so build your birth space along similar lines.
Oxytocin thrives on this kind of slightly cheesy romantic setting, and if you throw in a massage and a compilation playlist, then oxytocin will be over the moon in June! Your partner may be understandably nervous, but tell them that right now, they simply need to be there for you. Let them guard your nest and keep you safe, and treat you with the utmost loving care.
Making out with your partner during the early stages of labour is a great way to get the oxytocin flowing. Even if you’ve never done so before, labour is a great chance to really feel your feminine power as you embrace the sexual energy of making a new life.
Kissing, locking eyes, loving talk, sexy talk, and whatever kind of touch you are in the mood for, will all help the oxytocin to flow. And simply having skin-to-contact with your partner will get the oxytocin flowing.
You may want to ask the midwife to leave first though! Yep, this one is a bit of a taboo topic but, if you want to stimulate oxytocin, anything from nipple twiddling to masturbating to orgasm will help you to progress your labour. It can be especially helpful if your contractions are taking time to get established or are stop-start.
As you wait for your baby, remember particular times in your life when you felt incredibly loving and loved, and look at photos of these moments to help you. Focus on your love for your soon-to-be-born baby, too. Think about how you already feel about him and visualise how much that love will grow when you first see his face and as you hold him.
This is a great technique to use if you’re having a c-section. No matter what kind of birth you have, get your baby, naked and prone on your own naked chest, as soon as possible. If you can’t have it right away, don’t worry– it will still feel wonderful hours or even days after the birth. And it does feel amazing, because you, and your baby, will be flooding with oxytocin. Enjoy this delicious feeling!
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9 Beneficial Effects of Oxytocin + 34 Ways to Increase it
Some call it the “love hormone”: oxytocin helps us form social bonds and improves our mood. How does it work, and what factors increase or decrease it? Find out here.
Functions & Benefits of Oxytocin
In this section, we’ll discuss the normal functions of oxytocin, and some of the potential benefits of intranasal oxytocin. Note, however, that intranasal oxytocin has only been approved for specific medical purposes (such as treatment-resistant depression and stimulating labor during pregnancy), and it should only be administered with a doctor’s approval [1, 2].
If you believe that you might benefit from oxytocin, discuss this option with your doctor. In general, we strongly recommend against using oxytocin on your own — especially if you are pregnant.
1) Social Interaction
Giving oxytocin to people increases trust and generosity and reduces their fear of social betrayal .
Disclosure of emotional events is a sign of trust in humans. When recounting a negative event, humans who receive oxytocin (nasal) share more emotional details and stories with more emotional significance.
In one study, oxytocin increased generosity in the Ultimatum Game by 80%. This is a game where someone receives money and proposes how to divide the sum between himself and another player.
The second player chooses to either accept or reject this proposal. If the second player accepts, the money is split according to the proposal.
If the second player rejects, neither player receives any money .
Oxytocin supplementation increased empathy in healthy men. Even after experiencing social alienation, people who received intranasal oxytocin were still more trusting of others .
In mice, oxytocin inhibited fear responses by inhibiting activation of the amygdala .
Some researchers have argued oxytocin has a general enhancing effect on all social emotions; intranasal oxytocin has also increased envy and “Schadenfreude” (joy at the pain of others) in human trials .
In a study of 69 healthy adult men, intranasal oxytocin decreased memory of bad experiences and improved memory of social information, as measured by the recognition of human faces. The participants showed improved recognition of positive social cues compared to threatening social cues after receiving oxytocin .
For example, males given oxytocin show improved memory for human faces, in particular, happy faces. They also show improved recognition for positive social cues over threatening social cues and improved recognition of fear.
Oxytocin increases romantic attraction and attachment in males as well and helps promote fidelity within monogamous relationships .
2) Sexual Health
Oxytocin is a major sex hormone. It plays an especially prominent role in female sexual function, but it mediates romantic bonding in both men and women. Furthermore, measurable drops in blood oxytocin are associated with sexual dysfunction in women taking antidepressant medication [10, 11].
However, researchers have yet to identify a way to use oxytocin to reliably improve sexual dysfunction. In one study, intranasal oxytocin appeared to improve markers of sexual function in thirty perimenopausal women; however, the placebo also improved the same markers, meaning that the improvement could not be attributed to the oxytocin treatment .
In 58 healthy adults (29 heterosexual couples), intranasal oxytocin did not improve sex drive, arousal, penile erection, or vaginal lubrication, considered the “classic” markers of sexual function. However, researchers observed improvements to reported orgasm intensity and sexual satisfaction in both men and women who received intranasal oxytocin .
Oxytocin evokes feelings of contentment and trust and reductions in social anxiety .
Under certain circumstances, oxytocin appears to indirectly inhibit the release of stress hormones such as cortisol. However, no studies have yet identified a way to use oxytocin to reliably reduce anxiety or improve symptoms of depression. Many studies have attempted the feat, but their findings have been inconclusive [15, 16].
Some researchers believe that oxytocin prevents neuroinflammation and therefore protects neurons in the developing brain. Oxytocin has been found to prevent severe damage in animal models of stroke, and recent evidence suggests a role for protecting the fetal and infant brain during gestation, birth trauma, and early growth .
The role of oxytocin in inflammation beyond the brain or in the adult body is unclear.
Oxytocin neurons in the hypothalamus may help suppress appetite under normal conditions, and other hypothalamic neurons may trigger eating via inhibition of these oxytocin neurons [18, 19].
This population of oxytocin neurons is absent in Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes intellectual disability, impaired growth, uncontrollable eating, and obesity .
6) Water Retention
Due to its similarity to vasopressin, it can reduce the excretion of urine andsodium slightly .
Potential Benefits (Lacking Evidence)
No firm or conclusive clinical evidence supports the use of oxytocin for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. As such, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
7) Drug Addiction
Oxytocin is currently under investigation for its potential to inhibit the development of tolerance to various addictive drugs (opiates, cocaine, alcohol) and reduce withdrawal symptoms. Oxytocin administration has reduced addictive behavior in animal studies, but not in human trials so far .
Conditions With a Dysfunctional Oxytocin System
- Autism 
- Schizophrenia 
- Borderline Personality Disorder [24, 25, 26]
- Prader-Willi syndrome 
Oxytocin may strengthen existing social bonds (for example, between relatives/friends), but it does not help create new bonds between strangers, implying that it is less of a “love”, “empathy” or “moral” molecule and maybe more of an “us-versus-them” molecule .
Indeed, oxytocin may actually promote antisocial behaviors toward unfamiliar individuals .
Oxytocin can increase positive attitudes toward individuals with similar characteristics, who then become classified as “in-group” members, whereas individuals who are dissimilar become classified as “out-group” members .
Oxytocin promotes ethnocentric behavior, incorporating the trust and empathy of in-groups with their suspicion and rejection of outsiders. It promoted dishonesty when the outcome of lying benefited the group to which an individual belonged (the in-group) .
When given oxytocin, individuals alter their subjective preferences in order to align with in-group ideas over out-group ideals .
The in-group bias is evident in smaller groups; however, it can also be extended to groups as large as one’s entire country leading toward a tendency of strong national zeal. A study done in the Netherlands showed that oxytocin increased in-group favoritism of their nation while decreasing acceptance of members of other ethnicities and foreigners .
It has thus been hypothesized that this hormone may be a factor in “xenophobic” tendencies. Furthermore, oxytocin was correlated with participant desire to protect vulnerable in-group members .
Factors that Increase Oxytocin
Many factors have been found to increase oxytocin release or to activate oxytocin receptors, but these broadly lack enough clinical research to be considered effective for this purpose. Before making significant changes to your diet, exercise, or supplement regime, be sure to talk to your doctor to avoid adverse effects or unexpected interactions.
Broadly speaking, sexual behavior triggers the release of oxytocin. More specifically, oxytocin is released during or after the following behaviors or events :
- Having sex, or general sexual stimulation 
- Orgasm [34, 35]
- Nipple stimulation (in females / mothers) 
- Cuddling/touching 
- Falling in love 
The following lifestyle practices and events have been found to promote oxytocin release in at least one human study.
- Soothing music 
- Positive social encounters 
- Eating 
- Warm showers / Warm temperatures 
- Yoga [41, 42]
- Massage 
- Exercise (studied in pregnant women) 
- Certain forms of meditation (such as “Kindness Meditation”) 
- Petting dogs & other animals 
- Nursing 
Fenugreek is believed to be a “galactagogue” (stimulator of milk production) in Middle Eastern and South Asian systems of traditional medicine. Human trials are still lacking, however .
According to limited human trials, certain types of aromatherapy could potentially increase oxytocin release in the brain, thereby increasing trust and relaxation.
- Jasmine 
- Lavender builds trust and might increase oxytocin 
Certain supplements and probiotics could potentially increase oxytocin release, but these are generally lacking in clinical research, and none have been approved by the FDA for this purpose. Talk to your doctor before using any new supplement.
Magnesium is required for oxytocin to function. Magnesium deficiency may impair oxytocin signalling, but no clinical trials have determined whether magnesium supplementation increases oxytocin release [51, 52].
Vitamin D has binding sites in the genes that produces the oxytocin receptor and an oxytocin precursor. Some researchers have suggested that vitamin D deficiency may increase a fetus’s odds of developing autism due to a lack of oxytocin .
L Reuteri probiotics increased oxytocin release in experimental rats, but human studies have not yet investigated this effect .
wise, caffeine increased brain oxytocin in mice, but this result has not been investigated in human studies .
Other hormones interact with the oxytocin signalling system, but there is no particular evidence that taking or increasing these hormones imparts a benefit to oxytocin. We strongly advise against taking hormones without a doctor’s prescription.
Certain drugs have been found to increase oxytocin, but with significant adverse effects. We strongly advise against taking any illicit drugs for any reason.
- MDMA (also commonly known as “ecstasy”) 
Intergenerational Toxic Effects of BPA
One of the many reasons that bisphenol A (BPA) is considered dangerous is that it may decrease oxytocin across generations. In a mouse study, mothers with BPA levels similar to the average human produced offspring with impaired oxytocin and vasopressin signalling, an effect which persisted to the fourth generation of experimental animals .
Oxytocin is a principal hormone that exerts part of its effects by active fragments
Oxytocin is a nonapeptide consisting of a cyclic six amino-acid structure and a tail of three amino acids. It was originally known for its ability to induce milk ejection and to stimulate uterine contractions. More recently, oxytocin has been shown to stimulate social behaviors, and exert pain-relieving, anti-stress/anti-inflammatory and restorative effects.
We hypothesize that oxytocin is a principal hormone that, in part, exerts its effects after degradation to active fragments with more specific effect profiles.
Experimental findings on rats show that administered oxytocin exerts biphasic effects. For example, after an initial increase in pain threshold, a second more long-lasting increase follows. Blood pressure and cortisol levels initially increase and then reverse into a long-lasting decrease in blood pressure and cortisol.
Whereas the initial effects are, the second-phase effects are not blocked by an oxytocin antagonist, but by an opioid mu-antagonist and by an alpha 2-adrenoreceptor antagonist, respectively, suggesting that other receptors are involved.
Repeated administration of oxytocin induces multiple anti-stress effects, which are mediated by alpha 2-adrenoreceptors.
Repeated administration of linear oxytocin and linear oxytocin fragments with a retained C-terminal reduce spontaneous motor activity, a sedative or anti-stress effect, suggesting that alpha 2-adrenoreceptors have been activated. In contrast, linear mid-fragments stimulate motor activity.
Low-intensity stimulation of cutaneous nerves in rats, as well as breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact between mothers and babies, trigger immediate anti-stress effects. Some of these effects are ly caused by open ring/linear C-terminal fragments activating alpha 2-adrenoreceptors.
Oxytocin fragments may be pre-formed and released in the brain or created by metabolic conversion of the principal hormone oxytocin in the central nervous system.
Oxytocin and its fragments may also be released from peripheral sites, such as peripheral nerves, the gastrointestinal tract, and blood vessels in response to decreased sympathetic or increased parasympathetic nervous tone.
Smaller fragments of oxytocin produced in the periphery may easily pass the blood-brain barrier to induce effects in the brain.
In conclusion, oxytocin is linked to many different, sometimes opposite effects. The intact cyclic molecule may act to initiate social interaction and associated psychophysiological effects, whereas linear oxytocin and C-terminal fragments may induce relaxation and anti-stress effects following social interaction.
In this way, the principal hormone oxytocin and its fragments may take part in a behavioral sequence, ranging from approach and interaction to calm and relaxation.
Linear fragments, with an exposed cysteine-residue, may exert anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and thereby contribute to the health-promoting effects of oxytocin.
Martial arts increase oxytocin production
Numerous studies have demonstrated that oxytocin (OT), a peptide hormone, plays an important role in regulating mammalian social behaviors, linking it to social affiliation in parent-infant attachment, romantic and filial relationships, and other prosocial behaviors, such as trust and cooperation.
Not surprisingly, research efforts have been made to increase endogenous levels of OT. In the present study, we investigated whether traditional martial arts training, which integrates the natural benefits of physical exercise with dyadic prosocial interaction, would result in OT response.
To this end, 68 beginner and advanced participants were recruited from several schools practicing Jujitsu (“soft art”), a form of traditional martial arts originating in Japan. Salivary OT levels were assessed at baseline, immediately following high-intensity training, and following a cool-down period.
Analyses revealed a significant increase in OT immediately after a high-intensity training, returning to baseline levels following a cool-down period.
Additionally, although no significant difference between beginner and advanced martial artists was found, a significantly higher increase in salivary OT followed ground grappling, as compared to “punch-kick” sparring, indicating an added benefit of close contact tactile interaction.
These results suggest that the reportedly socially beneficial effects of traditional martial arts may be in part mediated by OT release and underscore the potentially therapeutic applications of these methods for disorders involving social dysfunction, such as autism, conduct problems, or schizophrenia.
Oxytocin (OT) is a peptide hormone that plays an important role in regulating mammalian social behaviors1. In animals, OT has been shown to support the formation of attachment bonds2.
Studies have shown, for example, that OT mediated maternal behaviors, such as licking and grooming in rats3, olfactory recognition of offspring in sheep4, and the grooming and contact of Rhesus Macaques5.
These effects are paralleled in humans, linking OT to social affiliation in parent-child attachment6,7.
For instance, synchronous interactions that involve physical touch between parents and young children were shown to increase endogenous OT production in both healthy infants6 and preschoolers with autism spectrum disorders8. Subsequent studies also showed OT release in romantic and filial relationships9,10, as well as other prosocial behaviors, such as trust and cooperation11.
These potentially beneficial effects of OT have naturally resulted in efforts to increase endogenous levels of OT.
Although several studies have reported therapeutic effects of oral, intravenous, and intranasal administration of OT in disorders of social dysfunction, such as autism and schizophrenia12,13,14, substantial challenges remain regarding the passage of OT through the blood-brain barrier15.
As such, there is a continued need to explore non-pharmacological approaches for increasing endogenous OT. A potentially promissing way to naturally increase OT levels is through physical exercise.
Indeed, several studies have suggested that exercise-induced increases in OT may be important for modulating cardiovascular changes and fluid homeostasis during and following exercise and may also moderate stress-induced response.
For example, an early study in rats has shown that OT is released in the complex involving the nucleus of the solitary tract and the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus to restrain exercise-induced tachycardia16. A more recent study reported that forced swimming in rats induced OT release into the blood plasma and the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus17. A few studies in humans suggested similar results. Two small trials in healthy participants reported an increase in OT following a prolonged running exercise18,19, and a recent study showed salivary OT concentrations increases following moderate 10-minute running, remaining significantly above baseline 40 minutes after completion of the exercise20.
The beneficial effects of physical exercise on physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being are well documented in healthy individuals21, as well as many medical and psychiatric illnesses22,23,24. This ever-increasing perception of physical exercise as medicine is nicely illustrated in the citation from an interview with Dr.
Robert Sallis, the president of the American College of Sports Medicine, stating that “if we had a pill that conferred all the proven health benefits of exercise, physicians would widely prescribe it to their patients and our healthcare system would see to it that every patient had access to this wonder drug”25.
One type of sport that confers the benefit of physical exercise and involves dyadic prosocial interaction is traditional martial arts. Over the past half century, martial arts have gained increasing popularity in the West, as their positive effects on cognitive functions, self-regulation, and sense of well-being have been demonstrated26,27.
The philosophy underpinning traditional martial arts is one of attaining the Zen state of mushin (“no mindedness”). This describes a state whereby the participant is capable of “fighting” to their fullest extent but without aggressive feelings.
Such balance is achieved through ritualization of combat moves and the requirement of respect to the instructor, practice space, and one another, as well as by highlighting the importance of meditation and philosophies such as peace, benevolence, humanity, and self-restraint28.
Research into the martial arts has focused on those elements that are most valuable to the targeted population.
Research with adolescents and young adults look at the benefits of martial arts in teaching self-control, enhancing self-esteem, teaching a more positive response to physical challenges, and inducing greater emotional stability, self-confidence, and assertiveness.
Martial arts provide an outlet for participants to channel energy into a productive and self-enhancing activity29. They have also been demonstrated to improve concentration and self-awareness in children30 and enhance executive functions31, including self-monitoring, awareness32 and cognitive-regulation30.
In the present study, we examined the effects of martial arts training on OT response. To this end, beginner and advanced participants were recruited from several schools practicing Jujitsu (“soft art”): Dennis Survival Jujitsu (DSJJ) and Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ).
Both approaches have originated from Japanese martial art and integrate the aforementioned aspects of traditional martial arts into their practice. Additionally, both forms include a randori component (high-intensity, free-style friendly tournament) in each class.
However, whereas randori in DSJJ typically involves “punch-kick” sparring, BJJ focuses on ground grappling. Thus, we sought to address the following three questions.
First, given the early suggestions connecting physical exercise and OT, we examined whether the high-intensity aerobic training during martial arts would result in exercise-induced increases in OT.
Second, as beginner and advanced participants have had substantially different levels of prior martial arts training, we investigated whether this might lead to differential OT responses. Finally, we examined whether the longer close contact time occurring during ground grappling would result in greater OT response.
To examine the OT response between beginner and advanced martial artists, LMM was conducted, with trainee level (beginner vs.
advanced), time of saliva collection (baseline, peak-training, cool-down), and their interactions as fixed factors, and an intercept for subject as a random factor.
These analyses demonstrated a significant effect of time of saliva collection, F (2, 120) = 12.0, p
The Top 10 Ways to Boost Good Feelings
The “love molecule,” oxytocin, is the chemical foundation for trusting others. Activated by positive social interactions, it makes us care about others in tangible ways, and it motivates us to work together for a common purpose.
After a dozen years studying the role oxytocin plays in human behavior, I thought I'd share an answer to the question I am most often asked: How can I raise my levels? Below is my top 10 list.
But first, a short neuroscience digression: The effect of oxytocin, other signaling chemicals in the brain, is more dependent on changes than on absolute levels.
Oxytocin helps us respond appropriately to our social environment by changing its amounts in the brain second by second.
Rather than focus on oxytocin levels that are near zero, for most people without a positive social interaction, the better question is how can one increase their level of oxytocin when interacting with others and thereby increase empathy and compassion towards them.
Another neuroscience digression: Because oxytocin is so ancient (a precursor can be traced back at least 400 million years to fish), natural selection has found ways to utilize it in both the brain and the body.
Un almost every other neurochemical we make, animal studies have shown that the change in oxytocin after a social interaction as measured in the blood reflects changes in oxytocin in the brain. Thus, if an activity causes a spike in oxytocin as measured in the blood, a corresponding spike is ly occurring in the brain.
It is brain oxytocin that is most responsible for effects on behavior, and blood oxytocin gives us a window into what occurs in the brain.
The ways to raise oxytocin listed below are measuring changes in oxytocin in blood in humans. Many are from my lab and some come from other sources.
Variations in protocols and the moderate sample sizes for human studies inhibit comparing the reported average changes in oxytocin across published works.
Instead, I'm simply listing the ways to raise oxytocin in order of my personal favorites.
10. Listen with your eyes. Instead of being glued to an electronic device, give the person with you your complete attention. Watch their face and listen to what he or she is telling you.
9. Give a gift. Our first human oxytocin studies showed that receiving gifts raised oxytocin. Why not make this a regular practice? The key is not to expect a gift in return, just surprise someone for no reason.
8. Share a meal. Eating moderately is calming and helps us bond with others. Including a glass of wine is fine, too. You can increase the effect by following #9 and making the meal you share a gift.
7. Meditate while focusing on others. My lab has found that a form of meditation called “metta,” in which one focuses on loving others, is better at fostering social connections than standard mindfulness meditation.
6. Soak in a hot tub. I love to do this with my kids. The warm temperature and time together offer the ability to connect with them. And we all look goofy when we're wet, making the time even more fun.
5. Use social media. OK, you are doing this anyway, but you should know that 100% of the people I tested using social media had an increase in oxytocin. Just don't forget to see your friends in person, too.
4. Ride a roller coaster or jump an airplane. Many activities that are moderately stressful and done with one or more other people raise oxytocin. My recent tandem skydive produced a greater than 200% oxytocin spike. Try being a single rider on a roller coaster and you'll experience an immediate bond with the person next to you.
3. Pet a dog. This doesn't always work unless the dog belongs to you, but if you identify as a “dog person,” any old dog will raise your oxytocin. The dog won't complain, either. And once your oxytocin is up, you'll connect better to the humans around you, too.
2. Use the “L” word. Tell those around you that you love them. Oxytocin is the love molecule so it is part of our evolved biology to love others (both “philia” and “eros”). You've got to put it out there to get it back. With friends, too, and maybe even at work.
1. Eight hugs a day. We have shown that touch not only raises oxytocin, but it reduces cardiovascular stress and can improve the immune system, too. Try telling people that you hug rather than shake hands and see what happens when you give others the gift of oxytocin.
Studies show that the more one releases oxytocin, the easier it becomes to do so. That has certainly been my experience in practicing these oxytocin-releasing activities. If you can do all 10, you'll be an oxytocin master.
Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation
Human individuals express different behaviors in order to feel well and to avoid tension and stress. Some of these behaviors are maladaptive and could be regarded as expressions of abuse, whereas others clearly represent healthy and natural ways of achieving every day wellbeing and relief from stress.
A common denominator of several of the natural “soothing mechanisms” is that they often involve some type of sensory stimulation of skin or mucosa.
Oxytocin, released within the brain from oxytocinergic nerves emanating from the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) in response to such sensory stimuli, is of crucial importance for the positive effects linked to these self-soothing behaviors (Buijs, 1983; Buijs et al., 1983; Sofroniew, 1983; Uvnäs-Moberg, 1998).
Oxytocin may, e.g., induce wellbeing by stimulation of dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens (NA) (Insel, 2003), increase social interaction and decrease anxiety by actions in the amygdala (Amico et al., 2004), decrease stress reactions by actions in the hypothalamic-pituitary—adrenal axis (HPA-axis) (Petersson et al.
, 1999b; Neumann, 2002) and by decreasing noradrenergic release in the locus coeruleus (LC) (Petersson et al., 1998b) and nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) (Petersson et al., 2005a). Oxytocin may also decrease the sensitivity to pain by increasing opioidergic activity in the periaqueductal gray (PAG) (Lund et al., 2002).
Oxytocin also modulates serotoninergic activity (Yoshida et al., 2009).
Oxytocin is released in response to activation of sensory nerves (Stock and Uvnäs-Moberg, 1988) not only during labor and breastfeeding, but also in response to skin-to-skin contact between mothers and infants (Matthiesen et al., 2001), during sexual intercourse (Carmichael et al.
, 1987) in both sexes, in connection with positive, warm interactions between humans (Light et al., 2005) and interaction between humans and animals (in particular dogs; Odendaal and Meintjes, 2003; Miller et al., 2009; Handlin et al.
, 2011), in response to several kinds of massage (Uvnäs-Moberg, 2004) and even in response to suckling (Lupoli et al., 2001) and food intake (Ohlsson et al., 2002).
The present article will be restricted to self-soothing mechanisms linked to oxytocin release in response to sensory stimulation and, in particular, to somatosensory stimulation. This is not to restrict the importance of stimuli mediated by the other senses or other types of mental activity, but since these mechanisms are often overlooked.
The noxious and the non-noxious information mediated by peripheral sensory nerves play an important role by informing us about the state of the internal and external environment during our entire life.
First some important aspects of the oxytocin system observations in animals and humans will be described, including the link between sensory stimulation and oxytocin release and oxytocin induced effects, in particular anti-stress effects.
Thereafter the role of oxytocin release in basic female reproductive situations, such as birth (including skin-to-skin contact after birth) and breastfeeding, will be described, since some important information regarding the interactive effects between oxytocin release and sensory stimulation can be obtained from these models.
The role of oxytocin and sensory stimulation for the positive consequences of other types of human interaction, e.g., sexual interaction, warm, and positive relationships including relationships between humans and dogs, will be described. Finally we will describe the effects of activation of sensory nerves and oxytocin release in connection to various types of massage or tactile stimulation, suckling and food intake.
All these “interactive behaviors” give rise to wellbeing and reduced stress levels. As oxytocin is involved, bonding to the source of the interaction may develop.
In addition oxytocin release caused by the interactive procedures described above will stimulate mechanisms related to restoration and healing and therefore in a more long-term perspective they will contribute to a better health profile and longevity.
For most people the above listed self-soothing behaviors are part of everyday normal life and contribute to wellbeing and relaxation. It is, however, becoming clear that some individuals “overuse” some of these self-soothing behaviors.
There are many reasons for a need of such an “overdose,” but individuals who lack positive social relationships or have a low function in their oxytocin system, e.g., those with attachment disorders, may need to use one or several of the above listed self-soothing behaviors more than others in order to restore their oxytocin function and to feel well and relaxed. In some individuals the “overuse” may reach abusive levels.
Chemical, Morphological, and Functional Aspects
Oxytocin is a small peptide consisting of only nine amino acids and is produced in two nuclei within the hypothalamus, i.e., the PVN and the supraoptic nucleus (SON).
From magnocellular neurons within the PVN and SON oxytocinergic neurons project to the neurohypophysis wherefrom oxytocin is released into the circulation acting as a classical hormone, mediating uterine contraction during labor and milk ejection during breastfeeding (Burbach et al., 2006).
However, oxytocin is also an important neurotransmitter within the brain. Parvocellular neurons from the PVN project to many important regulatory areas within the brain, e.g.
, other nuclei within the hypothalamus, the amygdala, the hippocampus, the PAG, the frontal cortex, the raphe nuclei, the striatum, the NA, the vagal nuclei (both the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) and the dorsal vagal nucleus (DMX), and the LC.
Oxytocinergic neurons also reach the pineal gland, the cerebellum and the spinal cord (Figure 1) (Buijs, 1983; Buijs et al., 1983; Sofroniew, 1983; Knobloch et al., 2012; Stoop, 2012).
Thus oxytocin reaches several important areas in the central nervous system (CNS), which are involved in the regulation of social interactive behaviors, fear, aggression perception of pain, calm, wellbeing, and stress reactions (by modulating the activity of the HPA-axis and the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system).
Oxytocin can also be released from dendrites of the oxytocinergic neurons in the SON and PVN and then by diffusion and volume transmission reach distant locations in the brain to induce oxytocin mediated effects. For example such effects might occur when oxytocin is released in high amounts as, e.g., during parturition and breast-feeding (Ludwig and Leng, 2006; Fuxe et al., 2012). During these occasions high amounts of oxytocin is released in parallel both into the periphery and within the CNS (Keverne and Kendrick, 1994).
Figure 1. Schematic illustration of how oxytocinergic neurons within the PVN project to some important regulatory areas in the CNS.
HC, hippocampus; HT, hypothalamus; PVN, paraventricular nucleus; NA, nucleus accumbens; AM, amygdala; PAG, periaqueductal gray; RN, raphe nuclei; LC, locus coeruleus; NTS, nucleus tractus solitarius; DMX, dorsal motor nucleus; FC, frontal cortex; P, pituitary.
Oxytocin may act via one or several of these different mechanisms at the same time and also different combinations of oxytocin mediated effects might be activated. In this way separate oxytocin effects are integrated into broader effect patterns.
Different patterns of oxytocin mediated effects are induced during labor, breastfeeding and social interactions involving touch (Uvnäs-Moberg and Petersson, 2010; Uvnäs-Moberg and Prime, 2013).
As will be described in more detail below, when oxytocin release is induced by low intensity somatosensory stimulation, the anti-stress effect pattern becomes particularly prominent.
The amount of oxytocin receptors and their binding properties are of course also of fundamental importance for the effects of oxytocin.
Here both sex steroids and glucocorticoids play an important role since they both have the capacity to influence the expression of oxytocin receptors as well as the binding of oxytocin to receptors in the brain (Schumacher et al., 1993; Pfaff et al., 1999).
Not all oxytocin-mediated effects are blocked by antagonists directed toward the uterine type of oxytocin receptor, e.g., some of the anti-stress, growth promoting and restorative effects of oxytocin.
The reason is that oxytocin is metabolized and degraded into several smaller cyclic and linear oxytocin fragments (de Wied et al., 1987). A C-terminal fragment has been linked to calming, anti-stress, and growth promoting effects of oxytocin (Petersson et al., 1999c; Petersson and Uvnäs-Moberg, 2004).
Variants of the oxytocin receptor gene have been demonstrated, some of which have been associated with different capabilities to recognize facial expression (Kumsta and Heinrichs, 2013). Some variants of the oxytocin receptor gene are also more prevalent in individuals with schizophrenia and autism (Montag et al., 2013; Yamasue, 2013).
The half-life of oxytocin in the circulation of humans is 30 min (De Groot et al., 1995).
A similar half-life has been demonstrated in the cerebrospinal fluid, but might be even longer in different parts of the brain (Jones and Robinson, 1982).
The half-life of the oxytocin fragments is not known, but may be longer than that of the mother molecule. Only very small amounts of oxytocin in the circulation pass to the brain via the blood–brain barrier (BBB;