If you want to improve your love life, copy rodents.
Not just any rodent, but specifically a small relative of the common mouse called a prairie vole. You see, prairie voles are one of roughly 3% of mammals that are monogamous.
That's why prairie voles served as one of the earliest subjects for researchers, who observed that as the voles went through courtship and mating, a certain hormone spiked.
This chemical lingered in the prairie voles' systems even as they stayed in their apparently monogamous bonds. On the other hand, their cousin the montane vole is nearly identical... But it doesn't form bonds with a single mate. And montane voles don't make this hormone.
That hormone is oxytocin. Studies like these led researchers to nickname it the "love hormone."
Over the past few years, researchers have discovered that oxytocin is a much more complex chemical than we realized. Humans experience changes in oxytocin levels during birth, lactation, and sex.
Oxytocin is a hormone produced by a small area in your brain called the hypothalamus. It's stored in your pituitary gland. You may recall these areas being critical for your circadian rhythm and appetite control. Certain stimuli – like giving birth, skin-to-skin touching, or even stress – trigger the release of oxytocin into your brain and blood.
It was once thought oxytocin was only instrumental in birth. But over the past few years, they've found specialized oxytocin receptors throughout the human body. They're in your kidneys, fat cells, pancreas, blood vessels, and even your heart.
It turns out that a lot of health benefits are associated with elevated levels of oxytocin, including:
- Reduced pain
- Calmed stress responses
- Stimulated insulin secretions
- Less inflammation
- Better personal relationships
- Lowered blood pressure
So how can we get some of this wonder hormone? Right now, only one type of oxytocin drug is on the market for regular use. It's an injection given to pregnant women to stimulate the onset of labor.
There's also a nasal spray, but it's undergoing trials for proper use... So far, the results have been mixed.
You can find plenty of sprays and pills online claiming to contain the stuff... But don't fall for them. Like other supplements, they're untested. Worse, some folks have reported outbursts of aggression after using oxytocin sprays.
That's why, as with most things, I recommend getting your oxytocin fix naturally. And as it turns out, you can boost your oxytocin levels with several tips I've already recommended over the years...
Three Natural Ways to Boost Your Oxytocin Levels
Here are three ideal ways to boost your oxytocin levels – and overall health and wellness – without using dangerous pills or sprays...
1. Sex: Perhaps the most well-known way to produce the "love hormone," sex triggers a large release of oxytocin in both men and women. Oxytocin also boosts sex drive, egg transportation, and ejaculation.
A study done by Stanford University found that levels of oxytocin increased along with the sexual response. The researchers believe oxytocin release accompanies the contractions of the smooth muscles experienced during sex.
Since oxytocin fosters feelings of security, well-being, and bonding, many couples with active sex lives experience healthier, longer lives. And remember that ejaculating regularly helps prevent prostate cancer.
2. Massage: The simple act of skin touching skin – handshakes, a caress, a hug – all stimulate the production of oxytocin.
In one 2014 study, blood samples showed that after a massage, oxytocin levels rose in both the recipient and therapist. I've written before about how a massage can improve circulation and boost your immune system. It also increases the activity of the vagus nerve... which, in turn, releases more oxytocin.
The vagus nerve is one of your 12 cranial nerves that connect your brainstem to major organs in your body. The vagus nerve stretches throughout the body and includes a branch to the heart. A 1988 Scandinavian study showed that stimulating the vagus nerve with electricity immediately increased the oxytocin levels in the blood. Other research has shown that the simple act of touching someone also stimulates this nerve and slows down your heart rate.
Finally, the vagus nerve controls the activation of something called the HPA axis (named for the connection between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland). This axis responds to stress and triggers a multitude of bodily reactions.
3. Meditation: Oxytocin is tied to two changes that we've seen in meditation – reduced activity in the fear center of the brain (the amygdala) and the stimulation of the relaxation response.
Again, this is linked to the vagus nerve. One study from the journal Psychological Science reported that meditators experienced an increase in something called the "vagal tone"... Essentially, their vagus nerve was more stimulated, resulting in better moods and attitudes.
Currently, measuring oxytocin in the brain is difficult. But given what we've seen with meditation increasing the positive effects of the vagus nerve, we think oxytocin is the driving force behind meditation's stress reduction and the subsequent increases seen in compassion, empathy, and relaxation.
What's more, just as sex and massage connect you with others, forming healthy connections to folks makes you happier because it boosts your oxytocin levels.
For example, babies and mothers experience spikes in oxytocin release when they see one another or even think of each other. As it turns out, the same thing happens in close, loving relationships. Seeing, hearing, or thinking of someone you love releases oxytocin.
Oxytocin helps us do a lot more than simply cuddle with our loved ones. Increasing your hormone level naturally with these easy tips will help you live a healthier, happier life.
What We're Reading...
- More on oxytocin and its effect on emotions.
- Oxytocin controls whether or not we trust people.
- Something different: Why do we believe in superstitions?
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
January 3, 2017