This little known and misunderstood hormone could be the missing link in balancing runaway cortisol levels. I’m really excited to dive into telling you about this secret hormone superpower, but first, let’s review…
In my last blog, I talked about how elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol could take a hit on your gut and immune health. While I focused on those two areas, elevated cortisol levels can also sabotage weight loss, your mood, increase your risk for diabetes, and erode your overall well-being.
In the short-term, when you experience an acute stress, cortisol works in your favor. The problem happens when this hormone stays “on” when it really should be off. That’s when the repercussions can have serious effects on the gut, immune system, and your peace of mind.
I left you with 10 ways to manage cortisol levels in that last blog. Today, I’m going to show you the most important way you can put a checkmate on that hormone.
Boosting your oxytocin levels is your secret weapon to dial down cortisol and help you maintain a sense of calm, even during these crazy times.
The last few months have been rough for us all. If you’re like most everyone I know, you need a healthy dose of “feel-good” emotions to give you a respite from the constant stress. That’s where oxytocin comes in. Many of you are walking around with diminished oxytocin release, without even knowing it.
However, what you do know is you feel like life has lost its joy for you. The days drag, and you feel like it’s a struggle to make it to the finish line. You think there’s something terribly wrong with you, but all you need is a healthy dose of the “love” hormone. I call oxytocin the “cuddling and connect hormone,” and it’s very important for your sense of life satisfaction.
The good news is that even if you’re feeling anxious or stressed out right now, you can build more oxytocin. And it’s the one time I’ll tell you that you can be “naughty” doing so. These strategies are actually fun to implement (including a three-letter word…. Hint, hint), and you will feel its effects immediately.
Let’s start first by diving into what and how…
Oxytocin is essential for your gut, immune and overall health.
What is Oxytocin?
Researchers have traced the development of oxytocin back at least 400 million years. The hormone played a role in helping our ancestors survive. Oxytocin fosters healthy brain development at birth. Over time, a healthy brain contributes to things that humans need for survival: Social sensitivity, complex thinking, and language. As a child develops, oxytocin provides nutrition in the form of human milk. That bond between mother and child, supported by oxytocin, supports emotional and intellectual development as well as selective attachment. This allows a child to develop skills that he or she will use throughout life, including social behavior and emotional health. As the child grows up, oxytocin supports growth during development, resilience, and healing. All of these things help the child thrive and be resilient throughout life.1
Oxytocin can help you better manage strong emotions such as stress and anxiety, while promoting a feeling of calm and peace.
Your body produces oxytocin naturally. This tiny molecule of a hormone, produced in your hypothalamus, then stored and secreted by the pituitary gland, acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. When you release oxytocin, you protect your body from being bombarded with stress hormones, like cortisol. Think of oxytocin as the hormonal equivalent of a feel-good movie, a meaningful hug from a friend, a warm towel after a shower, or cuddling up in a blanket on a cold winter day. This is your ahhh hormone that keeps you calm and collected.
“If you ever experience burnout, emotional disconnection, or withdrawal from things and people you love, it is probably due to cortisol knocking oxytocin down”, says Dr. Anna Cabeca in The Hormone Fix. “Thankfully, oxytocin helps counterbalance cortisol’s negative effects.”
You’ve probably experienced the calming, peaceful effects of oxytocin, even if you didn’t recognize that this hormone was at work at the time. Maybe you felt moved by music or recognized a pleasant smell? Go back to that moment. Do you remember the feeling inside? Immediately, you felt relaxed. Your levels of anxiety or stress went down. You felt safe in that environment, and maybe even a deep sense of camaraderie with the people you were with. That’s the benefit of oxytocin, and you can tap into it right now!
Mother nature is wise — the body releases oxytocin whenever you need to feel connected with someone else.
And who’s the most important person that should connect with you when we’re born?
From the moment you were born, you felt the effects of this hormone: Moms release oxytocin during childbirth and breastfeeding. Oxytocin fosters a bond between mother and child, earning it the title “the hormone of labor.”
Over the past 100 years, though, scientists have found that oxytocin plays a role in many other functions including sexual activity, social bonding, and managing stress. “The hormone of labor during the course of the last 100 years has had multiple orgasms to be the hormone of love,” write Navneet Magon and Sanjay Kalra. “Many more shall be seen in the times to come!”2
Oxytocin and Mood Disorders
If you’re feeling stressed out or anxious –– and who isn’t these days? –– oxytocin can rescue you and help you manage these uncomfortable feelings. And this is based on science. Research shows that oxytocin can lower stress and anxiety.
When the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) responds to stress by releasing cortisol, as I talked about in my last blog, oxytocin can help keep that response from getting out of hand.3 One example of the measurable physiological effects of oxytocin is lowering blood pressure.4 When something triggers anxiety or stress, oxytocin is released in specific brain regions that help manage the response to dial down those mood imbalances. Researchers are better understanding how oxytocin and oxytocin-receptor genes can help improve stress- and anxiety-related conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder.
One animal study looked at how physical activity impacted oxytocin and its effects on anxiety and empathy levels. (I’ll talk more about empathy in a minute.) Male and female mice ran in wheel cages for six weeks. Researchers measured their empathy and anxiety levels, followed by brain and blood oxytocin levels. Exercise improved empathy-like behavior and lowered anxiety in all the mice.5 Boosting oxytocin levels helps lower anxiety and stress while helping you better empathize with those around you. Talk about a win-win during these turbulent times!
Are you with me so far?
Oxytocin: The Love Hormone
Oxytocin plays a big role in social behavior. When you feel inclined to help, share, donate, or volunteer, that’s oxytocin at work. As humans, we really couldn’t have survived without this hormone.6
Hugging, kissing, cuddling, and sex increase the production of oxytocin, strengthening the bonds between adults.
Have you felt that feeling of “being in love”? That’s the feeling of oxytocin. Studies have shown that people who fall in love have higher levels of oxytocin compared with single folks. Even better, they continued to have that amazing feeling six months later!7
But don’t despair if you’re not in a relationship or in love. There are plenty of other ways to elevate your oxytocin production. Even during these social distancing times, you can give a loved one a hug or gently touch their arm. These gestures of human touch can immediately raise oxytocin levels in you as well as the recipient of your touch.
Sex also stimulates the release of this hormone. Along with other hormones like dopamine and prolactin, the body releases oxytocin when you orgasm. This is the same kind of rush you get when you listen to your favorite music or (I’m not encouraging this!) do drugs.8 And guys, it also helps with erections — thus why they are 90% mental and 10% physical.
For the record, increasing your levels of oxytocin won’t instantaneously make you trust or fall in love with someone. You can’t magically fix a bad relationship, suddenly empathize with someone you don’t know, or feel more trusting just by increasing oxytocin levels. You have to actually know someone and feel something about them to get the feel-good benefits of this hormone. But for people who you already know and care about — your significant other, your friends and colleagues, your family —
Oxytocin can improve feelings of love, contentment, security, and trust.
Boosting-Benefits of Oxytocin
There are a lot of other benefits of maintaining healthy amounts of oxytocin secretion that are worth discussing. Here are my top 4:
 Weight loss. Studies show that sufficient amounts of this hormone can help you manage your appetite so you lose weight.9 When you feel content and calm, you’re less likely to overeat or grab something sugary to calm you down. Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can also lead to weight gain. Sufficient amounts of oxytocin can balance out the effects of cortisol, nudging the scales in your favor.
 Better sleep. Studies have shown that oxytocin can help you sleep better.10 This makes sense, considering how this hormone balances out cortisol and helps you feel more calm. Remember that you’re also releasing oxytocin when you orgasm or have sex. If you’ve ever drifted off to deep, restorative sleep almost immediately after sex, you can thank oxytocin!
 Gut health. Oxytocin can increase the release of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) in cells that line the intestine. This helps to protect the intestine and repair intestinal injury in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).11
 A stronger immune system. Among its immune-supporting benefits, oxytocin can:
- Inhibit inflammation that, left unchecked, can weaken the immune system
- Exert an antimicrobial-like effect to fight pathogens that create infection
- Promote wound healing and regeneration
- Suppress stress-associated immune disorders12
So I hope now you get why oxytocin is so important and can benefit you. Increasing levels of this hormone can instantly boost your mood. You feel more connected with other people and more intimate with your partner. Your immune system becomes stronger, you sleep better, and you can even hit your goal weight with more oxytocin. In short, you want plenty of this hormone sticking around!
Gratitude is an Oxytocin-Boosting Attitude
One of the most effective ways to increase oxytocin is by cultivating gratitude. In one study, researchers examined how gratitude impacted oxytocin levels in 69 heterosexual couples.
Researchers asked each participant to choose something specific that the partner did for him or her that fostered gratitude. The recipient took up to five minutes to thank their partner for that action. They then noted their reactions to the interaction in private online questionnaires. The interaction and self-report were repeated with the second partner.
In other words, each participant in the study participated in two interactions: One in which he or she expressed gratitude, and one in which he or she received an expression of gratitude. Participants in this study said that they felt more loving when they cultivated gratitude. The positive emotion that gratitude creates can strengthen a relationship in the short term and over time.13
The good news is that you don’t need to be in a romantic relationship to foster gratitude, and you can practice this with anyone.
Writing thank you cards, calling someone who means a lot to you, and keeping a journal are great ways to cultivate gratitude. You might even consider a gratitude buddy, where you each text or email each other three things you feel grateful for every morning and evening. Once you start feeling the effects of gratitude, it becomes contagious!
11 Effective Ways to Boost Oxytocin
Like other brain chemicals, oxytocin is very sensitive to moment-by-moment changes. In other words, you can increase the levels of oxytocin by making a few simple choices during any moment of your day. The more your body releases oxytocin, the easier it becomes to release this hormone consistently. Here are 11 ways to do that.
 Really listen. The greatest gift you can give someone is to be fully present and really listen to what the other person is saying. “When listening to another person, don’t just listen with your mind, listen with your whole body,” says Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now. You make the other person feel cared for, which boosts oxytocin levels in you both. Watch their face and listen to what he or she is telling you. Listen with your eyes and your complete body.
 Have fun. We could all incorporate more fun into our lives. Having fun includes doing more things that you love and bring joy into your life. Rent a feel-good movie, go see a comedy show, play charades or have a park stroll with your best friend. Laughter and maintaining a playful attitude can help lower cortisol levels and improve oxytocin.
 Give a gift. When you give something –– a donation to your favorite charity, a handwritten card –– without expecting anything in return, you do get something back: A big oxytocin boost. Try it for yourself, with no strings attached, and see what happens.
 Serve a meal. Creating a healthy, delicious meal and sharing it with others can increase oxytocin levels. These weekend breakfast tacos make an easy, delicious brunch item you can share with your friends and that everyone is sure to enjoy.
 Do yoga. One study looked at 15 people with schizophrenia, which often involves social difficulties, and how yoga might increase oxytocin levels. After one month, yoga had improved how participants recognize emotions and how they function socially. They also had increased levels of oxytocin.14 Even a few minutes of asanas (yoga poses) can help here. You can find great yoga poses for an easy at-home routine in Happy Gut.
 Meditate. Mindfulness meditation is a great way to boost oxytocin. Meditation might sound like a daunting or loaded term, but you really only need a few minutes to get its many benefits. Even being fully present when you do simple tasks like washing the dishes can bring you joy and increase oxytocin levels. You’ll find a simple meditation technique here.
 Get a massage. Human touch is therapeutic, and one of the best ways to experience that is with a massage. One study found that just 15 minutes of moderate-pressure massage on the upper back could raise oxytocin levels.15
 Hug someone. Human touch raises oxytocin. When you hug someone, you release oxytocin. If they aren’t a hugger, telling your friends, colleagues, and significant other that you love them can also boost oxytocin levels.
 Playing with your dog. If you own a dog, petting him or her can also release oxytocin. If you don’t own one, visit a friend who does or offer to dog sit. Cats can increase oxytocin too, but petting them too much may overstimulate them, causing them to bite or scratch and increasing your cortisol levels!
 Do something a little scary. You might not have expected this one! Moderately stressful activities such as riding a roller coaster or jumping out of an airplane can increase oxytocin levels. If you’re a single rider, you might make a bond with the person next to you on a rollercoaster.16
 Fix your gut. If you want more oxytocin, start by focusing on the gut. Studies have shown that gut bacteria –– more specifically, the probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus reuteri –– can increase oxytocin levels and support immune responses. The right balance of healthy gut flora can benefit a wide variety of conditions, including mental health and metabolism.17
We’re still learning about how oxytocin can help improve conditions such as anxiety, aggression, stress, and the fear response. Researchers are exploring how using intranasal oxytocin, for instance, might be a potential treatment for anxiety and depressive disorders.18 While you can use synthetic oxytocin, the body makes this hormone naturally. Why not make more on your own with these strategies?
One of the best ways to restore gut balance and optimize levels of oxytocin is to take a probiotic supplement.
When you have the right gut flora — an abundance and diversity of good gut bacteria — you support immune health, balanced hormones, optimal energy levels, and an overall sense of well-being.
I’ve combined a high-quality probiotic supplement with other gut support in my brand new HAPPY GUT® RESET: 7 Day Detox. This program creates a clean start to balance hormones, lose weight, and feel better now that the summer season is here.
Detoxification is an overused term, but what I am referring to here is giving the liver all the nutrients it needs to process and eliminate harmful toxins from the body. With detoxification, think of the liver as a factory with two shifts.
PHASE I (the first shift) receives raw materials, processes them, and sends them on to (phase 2). However, some of the products that pass through the first shift are more harmful than the raw materials they started out as.
PHASE II (the second shift) needs to be functioning optimally in order to quickly get rid of these new, more damaging substances. If the liver’s detoxification pathways become overwhelmed, this can lead to an unwanted build-up of toxins in the body.
I’ve addressed both phases of detoxification with The HAPPY GUT® RESET: 7 Day Detox, which also includes sufficient amounts of protein and probiotics to aid the detoxification process. With this kit, you’ll get:
- 2 meal replacements a day using the HAPPY GUT® CLEANSE SHAKE
- HAPPY GUT® REVIVE, a 50-billion CFU probiotic supplement to support gut and immune health while helping the body better absorb nutrients to detoxify
- HAPPY GUT® DETOX1, a synergistic formula that combines an extensive array of nutrients that combat damaging free radicals, support the immune system, and help detoxify heavy metals and other harmful compounds.
- HAPPY GUT® DETOX2, a unique blend of nutrients specifically designed to support phase 2 detoxification, the process whereby your body prepares toxic compounds for elimination.
Among its roles, the liver helps eliminate excess amounts of hormones, including cortisol, while helping balance feel-good hormones such as oxytocin. The nutrients in this program go beyond detoxification. Sufficient amounts of protein also keep blood sugar levels balanced, so you stay full, focused, with a steady mood and energy throughout the day. The Happy Gut® Cleanse Shake provides an inexpensive, convenient way to get high-quality protein combined with gut and liver-supportive nutrients to help you properly detoxify.
When your gut is happy, so is your mind and body.
The HAPPY GUT® RESET: 7 Day Detox provides the essential nutrients that the body needs to have more energy and focus, lose weight more effortlessly, sleep better, and maintain a steady mood throughout the day.
HAPPY GUT® RESET: 7-Day Detox