Mood Enhancement – Oxytocin – Social Hormone
Oxytocin is a natural hormone secreted by the brain that in the past has been mostly correlated with pregnancy and breast feeding.
Modern research has shown that both men and women produce oxytocin and it is crucial for social confidence and sexual enjoyment.1,2,3
Some individuals may have low oxytocin levels for a number of reasons such as a genetic predisposition or environmental influences.
Oxytocin In Men & Women
Women, after menopause, will have greatly reduced levels of oxytocin which can cause major relationship problems. In women, oxytocin production in the brain is greatly effected by estrogen levels, which decline after menopause.
It is no surprise that many marriages end in divorce after mid-life. Women experience more loneliness and less life satisfaction after menopause.4 Before menopause women’s hormone levels increase their ability to care for others and maintain relationships and after menopause the hormones that supported these relationships decline.
To learn more about the stages of life in women that are effected by hormone levels read “The Female Brain” by Louann Brizendine, MD.
In men, oxytocin is very important to help maintain empathy.5 Oxytocin enables men to share their emotions and be empathetic towards the emotions of others. Testosterone tends to decrease our empathetic abilities so having adequate oxytocin is very important.6
In defense of testosterone therapy for men, the tendency of testosterone to decrease empathy is only in respect to negative emotions (anger, disgust, fear) and responses to non-threat emotions such as sadness, happiness, and surprise are less effected.7,8
Interestingly, oxytocin increases male empathy while improving your stress response.2 For example, in a disagreement you need to understand where your partner is coming from, relay how you feel, and do this without losing your “cool”. Oxytocin can help so much in this respect I feel. It can be subtle for some men but others are likely to notice the change.
Sublingual Oxytocin Is Best
“I think most people have heard about the injectable oxytocin to induce child labour, but how subtle are the differences when the different applications are used, for example the injectables and the sublingual troches. Are there any differences between those applications?”
Dr. Hertoghe: “There is a real difference in applications. The injectables are the best forms for induction of labour. It’s also the best form to have a profound effect of relaxing the muscles which is good for uses like when people have pain in the muscles and tendons and there is no other solution. The sublingual oxytocin is much more for sociability and sexuality. The sublinguals make orgasms more intense and easier to come and also more sociable, there is also a sustained release form which is swallowed and assured to be absorbed through the intestine, but that doesn’t seem to work so well for sociability and for sexuality. So you need a quicker form for sociability and the sublingual is the quicker form and you don’t need to absorb much of it through the mucous membrane- that way perm it’s a quick and a stable action.” Full Article
Oxytocin in a sublingual form is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. “Sublingual” means under the tongue. When formulated correctly, oxytocin levels in the brain can be augmented with a low dose and enhance social interactions. For men who have difficulties doing presentations in front of groups oxytcin can be very helpful because it allows the speaker to connect with the audience while decreasing the stress response (ie stage fright).
For men, the most extreme example of oxytocin deficiency is seen in autism. Low oxytocin is also correlated with ADHD and social anxiety and while still not fully understood, males seem to have a greater risk. Autism may just be a term to describe someone with a defect in their oxytocin pathway.
In the new study, which is ongoing, researchers from Yale University are enrolling 40 children and adolescents with ASD. The children range between the ages of 7 and 18. Each receive a nasal spray of either oxytocin or an inactive “dummy” spray on two separate visits. The children then undergo brain imaging scans. During the scan, they watch images of facial expressions or simulated human movements.
Early results suggest that the oxytocin treatment enhances activity in brain regions that are associated with perceiving social signals such as eye gaze and pointing. It also appears to improve the ability to infer emotions from facial expressions.
“These findings add to a growing body of evidence that points to oxytocin and oxytocin-based therapeutics as having great potential for addressing social behavior in autism,” says Autism Speaks Vice President for Translational Research Rob Ring, Ph.D. “Although enormously interesting, these findings are not sufficient to warrant using oxytocin to treat autism today. Rather they give reason to hope that the knowledge being generated by such studies can be translated into safe and effective medicines.” Full Article
Depression & Oxytocin
There are also connections between depression and low oxytocin. You probably would agree that a hug can help make you feel better when you’re “feeling down”. Not surprisingly, hugging and spending time with others increases your oxytocin levels!
“In humans, oxytocin is released when they hug or experience other pleasant physical touch, and it plays a part in the human sexual response cycle,” said Dr. Kai MacDonald, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
“Studies of blood levels and genetic factors in depressed patients point to the possibility that this natural hormone might play a part in helping clinical depression,” said MacDonald.
“Previously, studies of healthy individuals have shown that intranasal doses of oxytocin reduce activation of brain circuits involved in fear, increase levels of eye contact, and increase both trust and generosity,” MacDonald said. “Interestingly, people given oxytocin don’t report feeling any different, but they act differently. Full Article
Anti-depressant medication over long-term will lead to depletion of oxytocin’s function in your brain!9 Supplementation with oxytocin can help reduce the sexual side-effects (such as decreased libido) of Prozac and other anti-depressants. It can also help decrease the “zombie-like” effect that can happen with long term SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) use helping to maintain the potential benefits of the SSRI.
Could it be that some people with depression have an oxytocin deficiency? In my experience, men and women suffering from depression often have hormonal deficiencies or imbalances and because anti-depressants effect the oxytocin pathways then this would make more sense than the possibility of a Prozac® deficiency.
The Benefits Of Sublingual Oxytocin Therapy
A brief list of the benefits of low-dose sublingual oxytocin:
- Enhances social interactions (such as your ability to make eye contact and touch others)
- Reduces social anxiety
- Multiple orgasms in women
- Increases libido in women and helps treat impotence in men
- Generates a feeling of calmness (as one would experience after sex or with good friends)
- Bonding – helps you connect better with others
- Reduces stress
- Lowers blood pressure in some
- Reduces cravings and addictions
- Eases depression
Joie de vive – French for Oxytocin
“Can we sum up by saying that oxytocin gives you Joie de vive. Would that be true?”
Dr. Hertoghe: “Joie de vive, yes, with the warm heartedness that not only benefits oneself but also benefits other persons. I mean that oxytocin can also provide joie de vive to others- because the patient who takes it may behave in a much more sympathetic way.”
As a doctor, I have an ethical and moral obligation to help others and do no harm. This is part of the “hippocratic oath” that all doctors in the United States are taught to follow and is one of the guiding principles of medicine in America. The challenge is finding treatments with the most benefit and the least risk. Hormone balancing, in my opinion, is the safest way to improve someone’s life while decreasing their risks for more serious diseases.
Oxytocin therapy (using low doses in a sublingual form) has been one of the most effective and safest treatments I have found to improve the quality of life in my patients suffering from low mood, relationship problems (personal and professional), or social anxiety.
Dr. Julian Savulescu, in his article “Human liberation: removing biological and psychological barriers to freedom”, argues that “there are psychological and biological constraints on our moral behaviour, rational decision-making and capacities to love.8 For example, low oxytocin levels can constrain our willingness to cooperate with others, and our capacity to maintain long-term loving relationships. There is also evidence that increasing iodine intake can improve a person’s general intelligence, while drugs such as Modafinil can enhance cognitive performance. Savulescu argues that we have a moral obligation to remove those constraints, and that we ought to accept these methods of improving our moral behaviour, decision-making, and cognitive functioning.”
I tend to agree in general with Dr. Savulescu that we do have a moral obligation to help others live full lives and that quality is just as important as quantity. If quantity becomes our only concern then I fear someday the world will be full of zombies.
I personally was “diagnosed” with autism as a child. It is much more likely that I was effected by a trauma as a child and was having difficulty coping with it and after months of my mother spending all her time with me (hugging and spening time with others increases oxytocin levels) I was able to recover and now enjoy the benefits of oxytocin supplmentation. It has literally changed my life and helped me to connect with others as I have always wanted. It is possible that low oxytocin can run in families (genetic) as “autistic” traits tend to run in familes, especially men.
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References on next page.
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