Oxytocin: Your Body’s Own ‘Love Potion’

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‘Love is just a chemical’ is not just a cynical statement preached by soulless non-believers against anything mushy. Feelings of love have scientifically been shown to be related to the combined effect of many increased hormones (which then float your brain on a pink fluffy cloud of sickly gifts and expensive restaurant bills).

Among these chemicals is the hormone oxytocin, which has earned itself a hearty reputation in popular science.  Oxytocin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland, which acts as a powerful neurotransmitter in the brain.

Its love inducing effect has been so widely celebrated that oxytocin nasal sprays are available which according to research cause men to be more emotionally aroused, suggesting also that male sexual performance and libido increase after using the spray. The nasal spray has even been said to control nervous system activity during arguments in relationships, indicating conflicts can be subdued by the good old fashioned hippy notions of peace and love. This is all good news for couples and divorce statistics, provided the participating females own libido is not swayed by her partner respectably sticking a bottle up his nose moments before intercourse.

Image by Holly Lawson

But is oxytocin an actual cause of love and affection, or does this love only stretch as far as humans loving the opportunity to jump on the band wagon of a hormone hype?

Shelley Taylor of the University of California, Los Angeles states: “It’s never a good idea to map a psychological profile onto a hormone; they don’t have psychological profiles.”

Although oxytocin is not completely understood, it has many proven health benefits. It is thought to be able to reduce anxiety, drug addictions, mental illness and promote deeper sleep as well as improving and solidifying relationships. It also just makes you feel good. Happiness is an important ingredient to health that doctors often forget to mention.

So how do you try it for yourself and get all drugged up on this infamous love hormone? Oxytocin has been shown to increase in levels from the slightest positive contact with another human, even just from shaking hands or looking and thinking about someone. If you are without love this Valentines day do not fear, as research shows oxytocin is by no means restricted to romantic relationships. Oxytocin levels have been shown to increase by 47% just from watching an emotionally compelling film so even the unloved and alone can get their fix. Even singing karaoke is shown to increase levels of the hormone.

Paul Zak, an expert in the relatively recent field of neuroeconomics, also known as ‘Dr Love’, states the molecule can be released by hugging and has held mass hugging events in New York where strangers are encouraged to hug each other. He claims oxytocin stems from an evolutionary mission to help people work together as a society, and that it can even be good for business.

Scientists used to identify oxytocin predominantly as a means of mother and child bonding, with increased levels shown during breast feeding and the actual child birth itself. Perhaps when you hear screams from the labour ward, they are in fact from an overwhelming feeling of love, not the pain of producing a human.

So see if you can boost up your oxytocin levels this Valentines day. Overcome your English instincts to not touch or look at anyone and give love a chance.

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