Happy Valentine’s Day! My husband, Xavier, and I will celebrate this day of love with our daughter, Elle, and our dogs, Mocha and Mac. Do you know those feelings of love come from a little hormone called oxytocin, also known as “the love hormone?” Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought it’d be fun to tell you all about the love hormone including what it does, how you can tell if your oxytocin levels are low, and how to increase oxytocin in your body.
Those feelings of goosebumps or “butterflies” during your first kiss or the feelings of euphoria that comes from cradling your newborn baby or a puppy are all caused by oxytocin. This hormone isn’t just responsible for the feelings of love, connection, or romance. It is also an important part of childbirth. It facilitates lactation in new mothers and contractions of the womb during childbirth. As a matter of fact, synthetic oxytocin is sometimes given to mothers to induce labor and to stop bleeding postpartum. 1
Before I get into all the details of the love hormone, let’s review the four “happy hormones” your body produces, which includes oxytocin.
The Happy Hormones
Altogether, your body produces nearly 50 different hormones that impact how you feel and function at every level. The hypothalamus creates these hormones and your pituitary gland regulates the release of them. Oxytocin is one of the four “happy hormones” responsible for promoting positive feelings of happiness, pleasure, love, and satisfaction.
Oxytocin is one of these four “happy” hormones, which includes endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. I’ll go more in detail about oxytocin in just a bit. Before I do that, let’s review what the happy hormones do in your body.
Serotonin: The Mood Hormone
Serotonin is a powerhouse little hormone that is essential for mood, brain, and digestive function. It controls nausea, supports optimal sleep, helps with blood clotting, and even supports bone health. Serotonin acts as both a hormone and neurotransmitter and is naturally produced in the body. However, your body can synthesize this hormone from the amino acid tryptophan, commonly found in many protein-based foods such as turkey.
A serotonin deficiency is linked with depression, and in some cases, anxiety. Many antidepressant medications are designed to block your brain’s serotonin reabsorption for this very reason. By blocking serotonin reuptake, more of this feel-good hormone is available in your brain. However, these medications often have awful side effects and don’t address the root cause of your depression.
Your gut health has a strong influence on your body’s serotonin levels because your gut manufactures up to 95% of your body’s serotonin.2 Recent research on serotonin production suggests that you can support your mental health in major ways just by taking care of your diet and gut health.3
Dopamine: The Reward Hormone
Dopamine is part of your brain’s reward system. This neurotransmitter motivates you to keep going and coming back for more. It’s fuel for your nervous system, which uses it to send messages between nerve cells. Dopamine plays a role in how we feel pleasure. When you eat a piece of chocolate this Valentine’s Day, the pleasure you feel while eating it is because of dopamine.
Your hypothalamus literally floods your brain with dopamine when it senses something pleasurable such as food or when you become aroused. This process also happens when you accomplish a task such as cleaning your house or closet.
Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine, which is found in chicken, turkey, fish, avocados, bananas, and pumpkin seeds.
Endorphins: The Pain Killer
Have you ever felt refreshed and euphoric after a long-distance run or great workout? That’s because your pituitary gland gives you a rush of endorphins. Even though endorphins are a “happy hormone” the misconception is that they are responsible for happy feelings. Happiness is a side effect of the burst of endorphins.
Your body releases endorphins when it’s under physical stress to relieve pain. Endorphins are hormones that act similar to opioids. They are made from a large group of peptides, which are short chains of up to 50 different amino acids.4 These chemical messengers attach to the opiate receptors of the brain to reduce pain.5 What’s more, endorphins enhance pleasure, boost self-esteem, and support weight loss.
Endorphins have a short life, meaning that burst of euphoria after a workout is short-lasting, although effective. There are several ways to boost endorphins including, exercise, volunteering, laughing, having sex, or eating dark chocolate! It is Valentine’s Day, so enjoy that piece of chocolate and feel a rush of endorphins.
That’s not the only hormone that could be getting a burst this Valentine’s Day. Let’s dive into oxytocin and talk about how it’s responsible for the feelings of romance and love for another person.
Oxytocin: The Love Hormone
As I mentioned earlier, oxytocin is known as “the love hormone.” It acts as a chemical messenger that controls key aspects of the reproductive system in women, including childbirth and lactation. It also has a role in behaviors such as sexual arousal, recognition, trust, romantic attachment, and bonding. While commonly called “the love hormone,” it is sometimes called the “cuddle chemical.”
The Physical Effects of Oxytocin
Oxytocin is more active in women than men, however it plays an important role in both sexes.
I talked earlier about how oxytocin is sometimes given to induce labor, yet it also plays an important role postpartum to stop blood loss. When a newborn latches at the breast, suckling accomplishes a similar result.
For men, oxytocin is less active, yet it plays an important role in reproduction by supporting the production of testosterone and the transportation of sperm during sex.
The Emotional Effects of Oxytocin
The love hormone is more of a player in emotional behaviors, much like the other happy hormones. Oxytocin is the hormone that is responsible for the feelings of bonding between mother and children, significant others, family, and even our pets. Each time you pet a dog or a cat, for example, both of your brains produce oxytocin.6 That feeling of love you get when you cuddle with your pet is due to the increase in oxytocin throughout your body.
Oxytocin is also responsible for the feelings of being in love with your significant other. A 2012 study found that oxytocin levels are highest during the first six months of a relationship.7 It is a primary reason you feel so much chemistry during “the honeymoon phase” of a new romance. It triggers those feelings of love, safety, and protection, and secretes in large amounts during kissing, hugging, or intimacy. It plays a role in orgasms, male erection, and that bonded feeling you have after sex.
Outside of romance, oxytocin impacts your emotional response to social situations. The higher your levels of oxytocin in a social setting, the more relaxed you’ll feel. It controls physical attraction, social memory, and trust between two people.
As you can see, this powerful love hormone plays a huge part in our relationships with others. Unfortunately, your body can become oxytocin deficient because of diet, a hormone imbalance, or a sedentary lifestyle.
If you’re feeling depressed, unable to feel affectionate, or disinterested in romance it could be because you’re deficient in the love hormone. I’ll tell you about ways you can boost your oxytocin levels later. First, let me tell you signs you may not be producing enough oxytocin.
Signs You Might Be Oxytocin Deficient
Blood tests can be used to determine your oxytocin levels. However, these types of diagnostic tests aren’t widely available to the public and are typically only used in research studies.8 Unless you live in an area where these studies are conducted, there may be no way to tell if your oxytocin levels are low. The good news is that there are signs that you could use a burst of oxytocin. I’ll tell you how you can boost your oxytocin production later. Here are 10 signs you may be oxytocin deficient.
1. Poor Communication
Conversations are easier if you are producing enough oxytocin. Research shows couples given oxytocin prior to conflict sessions experience more positive communication compared to those in placebo groups.9 If you’re struggling to communicate well in your relationships, a lack of oxytocin may play a role.
If you constantly feel impatient, grumpy, or irritable you may very well be oxytocin deficient. This may play out as having a short temper at home or little patience.
3. Unable to Feel Affectionate
Optimal oxytocin production helps you feel bonded and affectionate. If you have little drive or desire to hug your family, be affectionate with your partner, or feel joy from your pets, a lack of oxytocin could be to blame.
4. Increased Anxiety over Social Interaction
Experts say oxytocin isn’t just a love hormone, it’s also a “social hormone.” If you suffer from social anxiety, constantly cancel plans with friends and family, or avoid social gatherings, a lack of oxytocin might be to blame.
5. Lack of Interest in Sex
Having sex releases a huge burst of oxytocin. Remember, oxytocin plays an important role in arousal and the desire to have sex with your partner. If you’ve lost interest in having sex or struggle to get aroused, your oxytocin levels may be to blame.
6. Difficulty in Achieving an Orgasm
A study conducted in Germany, found that increased oxytocin intensifies orgasms.10 Your brain floods your body with oxytocin when you have an orgasm, which is why you feel contentment after sex. However, the adverse effect of low oxytocin levels is a difficulty achieving an orgasm.
7. Sugar Cravings
Studies show increases in oxytocin tend to decrease appetite, and vice versa. The lower your oxytocin, the more you’ll have cravings. This is especially true when it comes to sweet carbohydrates. If you’re craving something sugary after each meal or finding it difficult to control your sweet tooth, you may be oxytocin deficient. Eating a diet high in protein can help curb your sugar cravings.
As I mentioned earlier, oxytocin is abundant during childbirth. Natural oxytocin levels decline drastically after childbirth, which is what can cause postpartum depression.11 Oxytocin is important to maintain the HPA axis, the communication channel between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands. This axis regulates stress, hormone production, digestion, and an inflammatory response by the immune system. If your body isn’t producing enough oxytocin, the HPA axis becomes altered and can cause depression.
9. Muscle Aches
Oxytocin and endorphins work together when your body is under physical stress to reduce pain. As a matter of fact, synthetic oxytocin has been studied for years as an alternative to opioids.12 If you are constantly feeling aches in your muscles, your body could be low on oxytocin.
10. Disturbed Sleep
Remember what I said about the feeling of contentment after sex? The burst of oxytocin is why you fall asleep so quickly after having sex. Oxytocin helps regulate mood. After all, it is one of the “happy hormones.” If you’re anxious and under stress, an oxytocin imbalance might be why you have a hard time falling asleep.
Now that you understand the signs of an oxytocin deficiency, how can you increase oxytocin production in your body naturally? I’m going to tell you ways you can increase oxytocin levels naturally.
How to Increase Oxytocin
Everyone enjoys the feeling of loving someone or being loved. Human connection is such an important part of life. There’s no better time than Valentine’s Day to express those feelings of love and increase oxytocin. Here’s how to increase oxytocin.
A 2013 study discovered that those who practiced yoga had increased social functioning and an increased improvement to their mood.13 The study found that those who participated also had higher levels of oxytocin. Just 30 minutes of movement a day can lower your stress and boost your mood. It also strengthens your immune system and promotes optimal sleep, which is essential for mental and physical health. There are several online yoga options available. I find many great classes on YouTube. Even better, a lot of them are free.
Listen To Music
One of my favorite ways to relieve stress is by listening to music and dancing it out with my daughter Elle. Just a half-hour of listening to music can reduce your stress levels! A recent study also discovered that singing, dancing, and listening to music produced a large burst of oxytocin in your body.
Cuddle with Someone You Love
Oxytocin has a lot of nicknames, including being the cuddle chemical. It benefits when it comes to bonding and attachment. Hugs, hand-holding, and cuddling can trigger oxytocin production in your body. The best part, it also creates feelings of bonding and security. So take a few moments and cuddle or share a long hug with your pets, partner, or children. You both will feel the benefits of the burst of oxytocin.
Your sex life doesn’t have to end as you get older. In fact, many people over the age of 50 are enjoying a healthy and vibrant sex life. Sexual intimacy – especially orgasm – is one of the primary ways to get a quick burst of oxytocin. Having sex makes you feel closer and more connected to your partner. What’s more, having sex is good for your overall health, not just to get a burst of endorphins. It facilitates a healthy immune system response, helps you live longer, helps lower your blood pressure, and relieves stress.
Spend Time With a Furry Friend
You don’t have to have a romantic partner to feel the rush of oxytocin and a sense of bonding. In fact, just petting a dog or a cat will give you and your furry friend a burst of oxytocin. If you don’t have one at home or can’t adopt one, volunteering at your local animal shelter or just visiting to play with one can release oxytocin.
Eat These Foods
Your body needs nutrients to perform all of its functions, including increasing oxytocin production. Foods rich in vitamin D, vitamin C, and magnesium all support oxytocin production in your body. There are many ways to get vitamin D, including being outside in the sun. Wild-caught salmon is one of the most vitamin-D rich foods available, yet it only contains 570 IUs of vitamin D per 3 ounces. Most people are vitamin D deficiency, so I recommend supplementing with vitamin D to get optimal amounts of this nutrient.
Vitamin C rich foods include watermelon, avocados, blueberries, and broccoli. Leafy green vegetables and pumpkin are foods high in magnesium.
Taking vitamin C supplements is a great way to get optimal levels of it. Most supplements on the market do not provide optimal amounts and your only absorb 50% of the vitamin C your body gets each day. Even if you eat vitamin C-rich foods for every meal, you won’t be getting enough to support optimal health. That’s why I formulated Liposomal Vitamin C. This cutting-edge liposomal formula contains vitamin C bound to beneficial fatty acids for maximum absorption and bioavailability.
Increasing your oxytocin will enhance your mood, give you a sense of bonding with your family, significant others, and even your pets, and make you more comfortable in social situations. I hope you get a chance to feel oxytocin’s effects this Valentine’s Day as you celebrate with your loved ones.
- Oxytocin. You and Your Hormones. 2021.
- Study shows how serotonin and a popular anti-depressant affect the gut's microbiota. Science Daily. 2019.
- The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience. 2015.
- What Are Peptides?. Shishira Sreenivas. WebMD. 2021.
- Why Do We Need Endorphins?. Jacquelyn Cafasso. Healthline. 2017.
- Tell Me All I Need to Know About Oxytocin. Alexandra Owens. Remedy Health Media . 2022.
- https://www.makatimed.net.ph/news-and-exhibits/news/6-effects-of-the-love-hormone-oxytocin. Mekati Medical Center. 2020.
- What is Oxytocin and Signs You May be Deficient. Australian Menopause Centre. 2016.
- Intranasal oxytocin increases positive communication and reduces cortisol levels during couple conflict. Biological psychiatry, vol 65. 2009.
- Love Hormone' Oxytocin May Intensify Orgasms. Rachael Retner. Live Science. 2014.
- Oxytocin and postpartum depression: A systematic review. Taylor A Thul, et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology, vol 120. 2020.
- Oxytocin, an Opioid Alternative, Ready for Regular Clinical Use to Manage Chronic Pain. Forest Tennant, MD, DrPH. Practical Pain Management. 2017.
- Effect of yoga therapy on plasma oxytocin and facial emotion recognition deficits in patients of schizophrenia. N Jayaram. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 2013.