Oxytocin can help us bond with loved ones and can be released through touch, music and exercise.

Oxytocin is a hormone that’s produced in the hypothalamus, which is then released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland.

Its primary function is to promote childbirth, which is one of the reasons it is called the “love drug” or “love hormone.” Oxytocin causes the contraction of uterine muscles while also increasing the production of prostaglandins, which also intensify uterine contractions. Oxytocin is sometimes given to women whose labor takes too long to progress to speed up the process. Once the baby is born, oxytocin aids in the movement of milk from the breast ducts to the nipple, as well as fostering a bond between mother and baby.

When we’re excited by our sexual partner or when we fall in love, our bodies produce oxytocin. As a result, it’s been dubbed “love hormone” and “cuddle hormone.”

How to increase oxytocin

Low levels of oxytocin have been associated to depression symptoms, including postpartum depression. Researchers have been looking into whether providing oxytocin in the form of a pill or a nasal spray could help with anxiety and depression, but the results so far have been discouraging. This is partly due to the fact that this hormone has a great difficulty crossing the blood-brain barrier.

Exercise is a more promising strategy to naturally enhance oxytocin levels. After high-intensity martial arts training, oxytocin levels in participants’ saliva increased, according to one study. Music also appears to increase oxytocin levels, especially when people sing in a group, which adds the element of bonding.

The simple act of touching seems to increase oxytocin release. Giving someone a massage, cuddling, making love, or hugging them increases the levels of this hormone and a greater sense of well-being.

Oxytocin is just one of the four feel-good hormones, with the others being dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.

Source: Harvard Health Publishing