Oxytocin: The Key to a Stress-Free Relationship?

Oxytocin: The Key to a Stress-Free Relationship?

Oxytocin used to be known as the hormone that made mothers grow attached to their babies. But everyone releases oxytocin. Men make it in the same regions of the brain – the hypothalamus – as women. We may also make some in our reproductive tissues.

When you have an orgasm you release waves of oxytocin. It's interesting to me that your brain would produce a hormone that makes you feel trust right after you have an orgasm. You might be tempted to think it's an evolutionary mandate. That if you have an orgasm it means that you're safe and that nature wants you to stay with that one mate.

 

And a study published in Biological Psychiatry shows oxytocin may help you get along better with your significant other.3

Swiss researchers gave 47 couples a nasal spray containing either oxytocin or a placebo. The couples then participated in a videotaped "conflict" discussion. Those who got oxytocin showed more positive and less negative behavior than those given the placebo.

It also counteracts stress.Oxytocin is linked to lower levels of cortisol, your stress hormone. Oxytocin release also frequently accompanies the release of melatonin, the primary hormone that regulates our body clocks.

Here are some other benefits of oxytocin:4

  • Oxytocin calms you. In one study, a single animal injected with oxytocin has a calming effect on a cage full of other anxious animals.
  • Oxytocin increases sexual receptivity and counteracts impotence.
  • Oxytocin increases immunity and speeds recovery.
  • Oxytocin appears to be a major reason why antidepressants like Prozac work.
  • Oxytocin reduces cravings. When scientists gave it to rodents addicted to cocaine, morphine, or heroin, the rats opted for less drugs, or showed fewer symptoms of withdrawal. Oxytocin also reduces cravings for sweets.

Make More Oxytocin Naturally

Higher oxytocin levels mean you can stay deeply in love, have more satisfying sex, stay close with your friends and family, and possibly even live longer.

This is why it's a good idea to increase your oxytocin. Orgasms are a nice way to do that, and nursing a baby is another, but we all have lives, right? So we need some other, more practical ways to increase oxytocin.

One is to teach your body to produce it naturally, by choosing activities that promote its release.

The keys are to:

Meditate:A team of researchers from UCLA compared the brains of long-term meditators with non-meditators and found they had grown more gray matter in areas involved in emotion and response control. This may account for meditators' abilities to cultivate positive emotions and engage in mindful behavior with others, which releases oxytocin.

The good news is you don't have to be a yogi to get the benefits of meditation. New research shows that even if you take short-term training courses you can make dramatic changes in the oxytocin-producing areas of your brain. One study showed people could begin to alter their brains in just six hours with a type of meditation called IBMT, or Integrative Body–Mind Training.5

Here's an IBMT exercise you can try for yourself. First, sit someplace comfortable and quiet, with your back straight but relaxed. Close your eyes, and let your thoughts flow freely. You don't have to empty your mind. Follow your breathing, and try to sense any tension in your face. A furrowed eyebrow or a change in breathing cadence means you are getting stuck on a thought. The trick is to both let go of your thoughts and allow them to be there at the same time. This way of being with your thoughts, coupled with proper breathing and posture, brings you body-mind harmony and can help rewire your brain to promote oxytocin release. 

Nurture Others:Your oxytocin production starts to decline as you age, and drops off after you turn 40. It's the reason why minor irritations can become big deals, and why some of those hugs and sweet words don't make everything bearable any more.

The way to offset that is to tell your body you need more oxytocin by increasing your social interaction, with more hugs, handshakes and pats on the back. Touch prompts your body to release oxytocin, so the more the better.

Breathe It In:In the study I mentioned above, they found that taking oxytocin may work the same way and have the same benefit as social contact. There are no known diseases associated with too much oxytocin. It also produces no side-effects.

Unfortunately, you can't take a pill to get the benefits. Oxytocin breaks down too quickly in your stomach for a supplement to work. Even an injection won't last too long in your body.

The only clinically proven way to take oxytocin is by nasal inhaler. Nasal oxytocin is completely safe, and significantly increases oxytocin in the blood. If you take it in doses of between 18-40 IU over the short term, there have been no adverse outcomes in any studies.6

Intimacy is Key:Intimacy is one of the most powerful ways to lower a woman's stress levels, because oxytocin is produced by sexual arousal and orgasm. Oxytocin reduces blood pressure and cortisol levels.7Though men and women have similar levels of oxytocin, women have more estrogen and that boosts the effectiveness of oxytocin.

To your good health,

Al Sears, MD, CNS