Oxytocin, a hormone produced in the brain, is nicknamed the “love hormone” because of the influential role it plays in our love connections, sexual desires, friendships, maternal instincts and even our interactions with strangers. Unfortunately, we live in an oxytocin -deficient world in which feelings of stress often outweigh feelings of love, warmth and generosity.
Feelings of alienation and dealing with loneliness, as well as a lack of intimate relationships, are the outward manifestations of reduced oxytocin levels – but oxytocin deficiency may also cause physical damage to the body.
Dealing with loneliness, sadness and stress increase your odds of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. In fact, a recent study published in the Public Library of Science, Medicine reports that a social person has a 50% greater survival rate than a reclusive one.
Thankfully, you can lessen symptoms of stress, dealing with loneliness, and unhappiness by increasing your levels of oxytocin. Research shows that elevated oxytocin levels reduce stress and its related ailments, lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve circulation and heal diseases such as fibromyalgia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Even better news? While synthetic oxytocin can be administered via injections or nasal sprays, there’s a much easier, more enjoyable – and organic — way to stimulate oxytocin levels in the body – and that is through hugging.
Whether you are the initiator or the recipient, hugging substantially increases oxytocin. Dr. Lisa Masterson of the hit T.V. show “The Doctors,” explains: “What [research] has shown is that with orgasm, the oxytocin levels stay [elevated] for about five minutes, but with a hug, [oxytocin] can stay around for about an hour.”
Not Every Hug is Created Equal
A brief hug, or an arm’s length pat-on-the-back hug, won’t deliver the same benefits as a hearty one. Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a practicing OB/GYN and co-host of the upcoming ABC daytime show, “The Revolution,” recommends a 20-second hug for maximum benefit. These hugs can come from lovers, friends, pets, and, depending on your comfort level, even strangers.
Hugs aren’t the only intimate expressions that trigger the release of oxytocin in turn dealing with loneliness. You can gain similar benefit from kisses, caresses, hand-holding…even thoughts about your romantic partner deliver a rush of the hormone. Consider a study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
When each of the female participants who reported being in good marriages were asked to think of their husbands, their oxytocin levels rose dramatically.
The connection between touch and oxytocin lies in the hormone’s ability to influence bonding. Oxytocin, which is released in large amounts during childbirth, contributes significantly to the instant attachment bond between infant and mother. Many experts postulate that increased oxytocin may explain why many women seem to minimize the pain they felt during childbirth and opt to have more children.
Oxytocin influences the bond in all relationships. Paul Zak, Ph.D. and colleagues at Claremont Graduate University analyzed oxytocin’s effect on people’s interactions with strangers. Participants receiving the hormone as a nasal spray showed more generosity and trust toward strangers than participants who did not receive an oxytocin treatment.
It has been assumed that women have higher levels of oxytocin than men do. While the hormone estrogen does indeed make women more susceptible to increased oxytocin, studies show that men produce greater amounts of the hormone during intimate activities such as hugging, kissing and intercourse.
Fortunately, men are not immune to the effects of oxytocin, which reduces stress by decreasing cortisol and other hormone stressors, thereby helping to lower blood pressure and heart rate. Stress-related diseases such as fibromyalgia and PSTD are similarly affected.
Boosted oxytocin levels also help make recovering from alcoholism more achievable.
The benefits are numerous and the side effects are pleasant, so what are you waiting for? Get out there and hug someone today!