In 1975 Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry sang “catch that buzz/love is the drug I’m thinking of.” A “love drug” isn’t just a turn of phrase or a metaphorical device; it’s an important part of our neurochemistry. Nestled inside our grey matter are transmitters that produce a vital hormone that experts have called “the love hormone,” “the cuddle hormone,” and “the love drug.” It’s the part of our brain chemistry that gives us something to sing about when we feel the pangs and pleasures of love.
What is Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is one of several “happy hormones” (along with serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins), produced by your brain that help regulate your mood and maintain important bodily functions. It’s produced in the hypothalamus and gets released into our bloodstream through the pituitary gland. It’s often called the “Love hormone” because it plays a very important role in pair-bonding and relationships.
Oxytocin’s main function is to help facilitate childbirth. Oxytocin stimulates the muscles of the uterus to contract and also boosts the production of prostaglandins which help with contractions. Oxytocin continues to play a role in the mother-child relationship after birth, as the hormone helps move milk from the ducts in the breast to the nipple. The hormone helps cement a powerful chemical bond between mother and child.
What Else Does Oxytocin Do?
In addition to assisting with childbirth and breastfeeding, oxytocin helps facilitate closer relationships with friends, lovers, and family. Oxytocin sparks a feeling of well-being and vitality, and can often be triggered through touch. Hugs, cuddling, massages, and other forms of skin-to-skin contact can release oxytocin. Oxytocin can make us feel closer to others, and is often the biochemical reason why having a romantic crush on someone can feel so intense on a physical level.
It also helps get through periods of loneliness and isolation: the body can ramp up production of oxytocin during lonely periods, stimulating physical and psychological reactions that researchers believe is meant to encourage people to seek out other people and break their isolation.
Oxytocin can also reduce stress and anxiety.
Can You Increase Your Oxytocin Levels?
There are certain activities you can do that can stimulate the production of oxytocin beside the obvious romantic ones:
- Performing or listening to music (there’s a reason why singing karaoke feels so good!)
- Active listening
- Sharing a meal with others
- Petting a dog or cat
- Acts of kindness and service
How Do I Know If My Oxytocin Levels Are Low
One of the big warning signs that you may be suffering from an oxytocin deficiency is a lack of empathy. Part of oxytocin’s role in human relationships is to foster a sense of trust between people and to encourage social interaction. If you find yourself feeling distrustful of others and disinterested in social interaction, it’s possible a lack of oxytocin may be responsible. You may also experience an increased craving for sugar, heightened depression, low libido, and either a reduced ability to experience sexual pleasure or the inability to do so at all. It’s always best to consult a doctor if you feel something is amiss.
Article by Austin Brietta