Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter which you may have heard of referred to as the “love hormone.” It is produced in the hypothalamus and released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland. It has a rep for being called the “love hormone” or “cuddling hormone” because levels of oxytocin increase in response to hugging, feelings of love or intimacy. Oxytocin delivers a wide range of health benefits from potentially improving depression and anxiety, to enhancing parent-child bonding, and even contributing to facets of gut health.
Aside from being released during intimacy and human connection – oxytocin is released when hugging an animal, in response to music and group singing, during childbirth, and while exercising.
Oxytocin combats stress, anxiety and depression
Oxytocin may exert anti-stress effects through reducing blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Animal research shows that when rodents are given oxytocin, their levels of anxiety and depression fall. Higher levels of oxytocin in the brain also appear to lower anxiety. Interestingly, oxytocin has been used to help treat postpartum depression.
Oxytocin and the digestive system
Higher levels of oxytocin increase the release of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), a potent inflammatory mediator, in intestinal cells. This encourages intestinal repair and protection. Oxytocin might also be useful in helping to ease chronic abdominal pain.
Oxytocin improves parenting
Higher levels of oxytocin throughout pregnancy and directly after birth, lead to increased engagement in affectionate behavior and stronger bonding between mother and child.
Oxytocin influences generosity
A study showed that individuals put in the situation where they had to decide how to split money with a stranger were 80% more generous in their decisions after inhaling oxytocin, compared to those who had not inhaled oxytocin. While inhaling oxytocin increases levels of this ‘love hormone,’ we recommend naturally increasing oxytocin through hugs and connection.
Enhancing your well-being with oxytocin is uplifting! To reap these benefits simply hug your pet, give someone a massage, listen to music, exercise, cuddle with your partner or give a friend a hug!