Oxytocin, known as the “pair bonding” and “cuddle” hormone, is a naturally occurring hormone released by your pituitary gland.
As a hormone, oxytocin has powerful, health-promoting properties which start from the moment you are born. Oxytocin is released during childbirth, stimulating the contractions which guide the baby through the birth canal toward delivery. It also promotes the release of milk during breastfeeding and facilitates maternal behavior and bonding between new mothers and their infants, Dr. Joseph Mercola explains.
Only three percent of all mammals are able to form lasting monogamous relationships. This tiny list includes bats, beavers and a few other rodents, certain foxes, a few hoofed mammals, otters, and some primates, including humans.
The Three Stages of Love
Researcher Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, defines three stages of love, each marked by hormones which influence your behavior and feelings:
- Lust – In this stage, both men and women are driven by the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. This occurs from a few weeks to a few months.
- Attraction – During this time, the initial lust progresses towards a desire for a specific partner. Romance and commitment develop as the neurotransmitters adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin are at work. Attraction usually lasts a year to three years.
- Attachment – Oxytocin and a similar hormone, vasopressin, are at work in this final and most important stage. Oxytocin is released by both men and women during sexual intercourse and steadily strengthens the feelings of attachment and closeness. The bonding which occurs is necessary for a long-term relationship.
Love can start in any one of these stages, Fisher explains. Some people have sex with a new partner and fall in love after. Some fall in love first before becoming more intimate. Others develop a deep feeling of attachment first, then experience romance and mutual sexual attraction.
Studies suggest that the location of receptors for oxytocin and vasopressin, makes all the difference when it comes to long-term social bonding and monogamy, Dr. Mercola points out. The more receptors you have in your brain associated with reward and reinforcement, the more likely you are to fall in love and remain monogamous.
How to Experience the Health Benefits of Oxytocin
Oxytocin’s health benefits stem from its ability to counteract stress. The more oxytocin your pituitary gland releases, the better your ability to handle stressful situations, as it decreases the levels of cortisol and other stress hormones and lowers your blood pressure during moments of anxiety.
This hormone has also been found to reduce the cravings for alcohol, drugs and sweets.
Dr. Mercola believes that oxytocin likely contributes to why people with pets recover faster from illness, why couples live longer than singles, and why support groups work for people with addictions and chronic diseases.
But he is strongly against the use of artificial forms of oxytocin because synthetic hormones can seriously harm you. An exception to this would be in the case of a difficult delivery and labor is not progressing smoothly.
Cultivating warm, loving, intimate relationships, no matter what stage of life you’re in, is the best way for you to facilitate the natural release of oxytocin in your body.
Touch, positive interactions and psychological support are known to increase oxytocin. Here are some tips on how you can experience the benefits of the love hormone:
- Take care of a pet
- Hold hands, hug and kiss more
- Give and receive a backrub
- Nurture others
- Get a massage
- Practice mind-body therapies like breathing exercises and yoga
Having healthy relationships contribute to a healthier you. This is something for you to ponder on this Valentine’s Day.