The Hormone of Love: A Scientific Look at Oxytocin

 Do you remember what you felt like the last time someone gave you a hug?  Was it a family member, or a friend?  Did you notice any positive effects on your mood, or your relationship?  The power of touch and social bonding can be extremely beneficial to humans and has many positive effects on overall health, which can be attributed to one very powerful hormone, Oxytocin.  Oxytocin, also known as the “hormone of love” (Bartz, Zaki, Bolger, Hollander, Ludwig, Kolevzon, Ochsner, 2010) is a hormone that is released in our bodies when we have a social interaction, which regulates prosocial behaviour, and enhances bonding experiences (Kosfield, Heinrichs, Zak, Fischbacher and Fehr, 2005).  Let’s delve a bit deeper to learn more about Oxytocin and the positive effects it can have on your mental health and overall health.


The Science Behind Oxytocin

Oxytocin has been drawing a lot of attention from researchers due to the incredible effects it has on regulating certain behaviours, especially when it comes to social connections (Neumann, 2008).  Oxytocin has been looked at in both rat studies, as well as human studies and the research continues to grow.  The method behind Oxytocin, is that when a human (or another mammal) engages in social behaviours such as touching, breastfeeding, or sexual behaviour, Oxytocin is released throughout the body and plays a key role in social attachment (Neumann, 2008).  Research has shown that Oxytocin regulates the stress response, by decreasing cortisol levels and blood pressure (Uvnas-Moberg, 1998), as well as decreasing anxiety levels (Neumann, 2008).  Other positive effects noted by researchers is that Oxytocin improves trust, which helps to enhance and maintain positive relationships (Kosfield, Heinrichs, Zak, Fischbacher, Fehr, 2005), and Oxytocin has also been shown to increase empathy (Bartz, Zaki, Bolger, Hollander, Ludwig, Kolevzon, Ochsner, 2010).  Research has also shown that bonding time between humans and animals increases Oxytocin levels (Beetz, Uvnas-Moberg, Julius, and Kotrschal, 2012).  Merely, engaging in social contact (with humans or pets) can have significantly positive social impacts on individuals, not to mention decreasing stress and anxiety levels.  Future research may look at exploring these positive effects further to gain a better of understanding of the possibility of using Oxytocin to treat psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and depression (Neumann, 2008).

Now that you’ve learned the magnitude of Oxytocin, we’ve put together some ideas for you on how you can enhance your relationship with Oxytocin and enjoy the benefits. 


Ways to Reap the Benefits of Oxytocin

Remember that human touch is important – It may sound silly to remind yourself of this, but in reality, how often to you stop to think that having human touch/contact with someone else is important to your well-being?  It may not be something that consciously crosses your mind, but it is something important to keep in mind.

 Create time for bonding – In today’s society we often get caught up in social media and technology that sometimes we may forget about face-to-face interactions with family and friends.  Oxytocin can be enhanced even simply by having eye contact with another person!  Try to focus on spending quality social time with others and see how this affects you. 

Enjoy some cuddle-time! – Spending time cuddling with a loved one is a great way to enhance Oxytocin levels and feel good!  Remember your loved one doesn’t have to be a significant other; it can also be your pet!  So soak in all of those cuddly moments with your furry friends as well!  See our previous blog post, When I Needed a Hand, I Found Your Paw: Pets and Stress Reduction, for more information regarding the positive effects of bonding with pets.

 

We hope this has been a helpful introduction to the “Love Hormone” and all of the positive effects associated with Oxytocin.  Remember “we are each other’s magnitude and bond” – Gwendolyn Brooks.

 

Live life lighter,

Carolyn and Steph 


References

Bartz, J. A., Zaki, J.,  Bolger, N., Hollander, E., Ludwig, N. N., Kolevzon, A., Ochsner, K. N. (2010). Oxytocin selectively improves empathic accuracy. Association for Psychological Science. 21 (10), 1426-1428.

Beetz, A., Uvnas-Moberg, K.,  Julius, H., Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions, the possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 234.

Kosfield, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P. J.,  Fischbacher, U., Fehr, E. (2005). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature International Journal of Science. 435 (7042), 673-676.

Neumann, I. D. (2008). Brain oxytocin: a key regulator of emotional and social behaviours in both females and males. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 20 (6), 858-865.

Uvnas-Moberg, K. (1998). Oxytocin may mediate the benefits of positive social interaction and emotions. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 23 (8), 819-835.

Sam Cooper