Oxytocin has been heavily studied within the past 40 years because of the way it influences psychological behavior and physical responses. It is a hormone that humans and other mammals produce, and it has been nicknamed “the love hormone.” It assists with building relationships, childbirth, social bonding, and breastfeeding.
What Is Oxytocin?
The American Psychological Association released information that oxytocin is dependent on social changes. The influence originates in the brain, specifically in the hypothalamus, and transfers to the pituitary gland, where it gets released into the bloodstream. Think of oxytocin receptors like antennas that pick up signals of positive social interactions or stressful experiences. One psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco said that it helps create feelings of calm or closeness.
It’s Not Just For Women!
Despite the theory that it was a feminine hormone, research has shown that men also produce oxytocin. This theory was based on the relationship between oxytocin and breastfeeding and labor. While it assists with male and female reproduction, men benefit from the fact that oxytocin supports motility of sperm and testosterone in the testicles.
Why Is It Called The Love Hormone?
Funny you should ask…Well, it’s not really funny; rather, oxytocin is responsible for certain aspects of sexual pleasure and social bonding. Oxytocin is released during situations that make us feel connected, safe, or happy, and it gets released with similar hormones known as dopamine and serotonin. New research has also indicated that higher levels of oxytocin bring about feelings of security and calm, assisting with keeping people monogamous in relationships. These findings came from studies that revealed oxytocin’s ability to increase feelings of trustworthiness and joy.
Benefits Of Oxytocin
Recent studies have found that people in negative or unhealthy relationships have higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and oxytocin. A controlled study administered oxytocin supplements to see if they would reduce stress-induced reactions. The findings revealed that oxytocin works to protect the nervous system from shutting down in stressful situations. It also acts as a natural buffer to help people make rational decisions when they are stressed.
Facilitates Childbirth & Breastfeeding
Oxytocin is most understood in this role, because the body releases large amounts of oxytocin during labor. This intensifies uterine contractions and allows the baby to pass through the birth canal. Doctors have been administering synthetic oxytocin to women in labor to encourage labor since the early 1900s. The body continues to stimulate uterine contractions after birth to reduce hemorrhaging. Oxytocin is also released during breastfeeding because nerves in the nipples send signals to the pituitary gland to produce more of the hormone, facilitating with the release of breast milk.
Improves Social Skills
A 2013 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that higher oxytocin levels improved interactive and social abilities of people with autism. This study examined that people with developmental disorders or autism had reduced oxytocin levels. The difficulty to communicate effectively may be attributed to lower levels of oxytocin, which is why supplementation via an inhaler has been encouraged.
Helps Build Relationships
Higher levels of oxytocin have been proven to promote calm, positive feelings, which in turn assists with positive social behavior. Oxytocin levels also seem to rise during social contact, or even in anticipation of social contact or interaction, for example, throwing a party or getting ready for a date. This hormone makes you want to socialize and seek out positive relationships, and the benefit is that these interactions increase oxytocin production.