Why and How to Increase Oxytocin Levels in Your Brain

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone and neurotransmitter. If you suffer from trauma, grief or other emotional pain that haunts you, boosting the level of oxytocin in your brain can help.

Oxytocin is sometimes called the “love hormone,” the “cuddle chemical” or the “trust hormone,” because it plays a key role in the emotional bond in loving and caring relationships. But it’s a neurotransmitter that’s involved in much more than our loving relationships. Beginning early in life between a mother and child, it is an important part of our brain and nervous system that affects day-to-day emotions and how we go about our life.

Low levels of oxytocin in the brain are related to mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, social phobia, autism, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorderIt is especially important for dealing with the pain of trauma, grief, shame, and rejection. Here’s why.

Proper levels have been found to increase feelings of calm and security by suppressing the part of the brain called the amygdala that keeps us in a state of fear and on constant guard for danger. It can lift mood, reduce stress hormones and inflammation, increase feelings of trust and safety, increase pain and stress tolerance, reduce irritability and tension, and provide feelings of comfort and enjoyment in social situations.

We can actually affect the level of oxytocin in our bodies in numerous ways. Here are just a few easy and readily accessible ones.

1. Compassion. One of the best natural ways to boost oxytocin is through compassion. Receiving compassion from a caring person, friend, family member or therapist, priest or pastor, for example, will automatically boost oxytocin. This is especially true for those who are suffering from traumatic events. We can have access to compassion at any moment of any day by making it a habit to show compassion toward ourselves. An odd thing about this, though, is it’s hard, if not impossible, to show compassion to ourselves (or others) if we have never received it. But it is something we can learn in Compassion Therapy.

2. Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun. All the tissues in our body are ready to receive oxytocin. That includes the brain that initiates and guides all bodily functions. Spending time outside regularly is the best ready source. It can also be taken as a supplement and is available in foods fortified with Vitamin D… Most people don’t get enough Vitamin D and being vitamin deficient can make one more anxious and depressed. The best source is sunlight. Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D but here are some:

  • The flesh of fatty fish(such as salmon,
    tuna, and mackerel)
  • Fish liver oils
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified products like tofu, soy milk, some cereals and orange juice (the only fruit source of Vitamin D)
  1. Vitamin C. The synthesis of oxytocin is dependent upon Vitamin C . It also reduces anxiety and stress. There are vitamin C supplements and plenty of Vitamin C rich food, i.e.Fruits like:
  • Orange
  • Strawberries
  • Kiwifruit
  • Grapefruit
  • Guavas
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Honeydew melons
  • Cherries

and vegetables like:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts,
  • Green and red peppers.
  • Spinach
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Cabbage,
  • Sweet and white potatoes.
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice.
  • Winter squash
  1. Magnesium. Lots of people are deficient in magnesium too. This is unfortunate because the oxytocin receptors have been found to require magnesium to function properly and it increases the action of oxytocin at the receptor. There are magnesium supplements and magnesium rich foods like:
    · Spinach, boiled
  • Cashews, dry roasted
  • Peanuts, oil roasted
  • Pumpkin seed – kernels
  • Chard
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Dark chocolate
  1. Laughter. I know this one maybe be a surprise, but, really, go ahead and laugh. Any type of laughter stimulates diaphragmatic breathing and activates the part of our nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system that puts us in a relaxed and calm state. It also triggers the caring and befriending state oxytocin brings us. Just ten minutes of laughter is sufficient to trigger its mental and physical health benefits. So tune into comedies, look for any chance to see the light side of whatever’s going on around you, call or Zoom in with funny friends. Pets can always give us a good chance to laugh if we watch their antics.
  2. Chamomile. Possibly another surprise, chamomile tea is famed for its ability to put us in a relaxed state to go to sleep. But it is more than that and unless you are exhausted a cup won’t cause you to drift off while at work. Research shows it produces enough oxytocin to help us relax, reduce stress and anxiety. A warm cup or iced drink of chamomile is easy to enjoy any and every day.
  3. Melatonin. Another surprise? You’re probably familiar with this sleep remedy too. Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps control our sleep and wake cycles, called circadian rhythms, and adequate levels of melatonin are needed to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night. But studies have shown that 500 mcg of melatonin also significantly increases secretion of oxytocin. That’s understandable because one of the symptoms of oxytocin deficiency is sleep disturbances. It can be taken as a supplement and there are other natural ways to produce melatonin that are easy to do.
  • Expose your eyes to sunlight in the morning.
  • Avoid blue light from electronic devices when wanting to sleep. It suppresses melatonin production. There are ways to block the blue light of devices, (see Healthline’s article “Blue Light and Sleep.”)
  • Sleep in a totally dark room. If you need to have light in your room for an alarm or other devices choose those with red, orange or amber lights or wear a sleep mask.
  • Turn off cellphones, Wi-Fi and other electrical devices in the room while you sleep as EMFs can also disrupt melatonin production.8. Touch. This one is not surprising. There is so much research showing that human touch increases oxytocin levels in the brain quickly. We know the good feelings a kind touch brings. Even if it’s just a hug or shaking hands with someone. The limitations on touch are in part why depression is on the rise during the pandemic. So many of our regular ways of touching each other have become “no, no’s,” no handshakes, friendly hugs, or comforting hand on one’s shoulder. If we are living with others, making daily physical contact with them is all the more important. Make it part of every day. And make eye contact with those you care about too. Staring kindly in the eyes of others is another oxytocin booster.

 9.Pets. And speaking of touch, animals have a way of calming us because, surprise, petting them, staring into their eyes, cuddling up on the couch with them, playing with them, all increase our oxytocin levels. One study found that oxytocin levels increased in both humans and dogs after just five minutes of petting. I was impressed to learn that when we stare in the eyes of our dogs, their oxytocin levels increase to. So hang out with your pets as much as possible, and if you don’t have one yet consider getting one. They’re really good for our physical and mental health.

10.  Listen to Music, Sing, and Make Music. Here’s one reason we love the sound of music. It calms the brain by increasing oxytocin levels, especially slow-tempo music. Listening to it, singing along with it, playing it on an instrument of choice, all produce oxytocin. Now here’s an odd finding. This is true regardless of whether or not we like the song. Best of all for producing oxytocin is singing or making music together with others. Even in the stay-apart-world of COVID, folks are making music at home or in virtual gatherings.

11. Socialize. Positive social interactions can also increase oxytocin levels, so much so that social contact can even speed up healing. Once a pretty easy thing to do, socializing has become more challenging during the pandemic, so we’ve got to be creative. We need to make sure we stay in contact with our friends and families by phone, social media, or video chat.  Also, many churches, schools, AA meetings, conferences, and other groups are offering their programs virtually. While it’s not the same as meeting in person, it does put us in touch with others.

12. Watch a Movie. We all enjoy a good movie. And it’s probably because it increases oxytocin.

Compelling stories and tales cause the synthesis and release of oxytocin. So don’t give yourself a bad rap if you’re spending more time nowadays watching movies and drama series. If you live with others enjoying them together gives you a double dose. If it’s a comedy you’re watching, you’ve got a triple dose.

13. Do something nice for someone else. Everyone loves receiving a gift, for example, and it turns out that giving someone a gift provides oxytocin to you, the gift-giver, as well as the receiver. Doing someone a favor and volunteering for those in need have the same effect. Caring compassionately for others provides a double dose and gives one to them too. There’s an amazing feeling that comes from helping others and that feeling is in part from oxytocin.

Hope you can see how easy it is to boost your oxytocin levels and how beneficial it is for your physical and mental health. You can use the following worksheet to see how many ways you can work boosting your oxytocin level into each day. Get in as many as you can. They’re all good.

14. Smile. Smiling is one of those really simple, easy small actions that can boost our oxytocin. It also increases sociability and smooths out tough interactions. When we smile at others, they too get a boost. That’ not all. This works even if we just smile to ourselves. You can actually feel the shift in mood that occurs. So look for people, memories, and other things that bring a smile to your lips.

For other ideas and research references for some of the suggestions in this article see

https://www.optimallivingdynamics.com/blog/25-effective-ways-to-increase-oxytocin-levels-in-the-brain   by Jordan Fallis

For Greater Health and Happiness Boost Your Oxytocin Level

Use this chart to see how many ways you can check off each day.

___  1. Compassion
___  2. Vitamin D
___ 3. Vitamin C
___ 4. Magnesium
___ 5. Laughter
___ 6. Chamomile
___ 7. Melatonin
___ 8. Touch, Eye Contact
___ 9. Pets
___10. Music and Song
___11.Socialize
___12. Watch a movie
___13. Do something nice for someone or volunteer
___14. Smile

___  1. Compassion
___  2. Vitamin D
___ 3. Vitamin C
___ 4. Magnesium
___ 5. Laughter
___ 6. Chamomile
___ 7. Melatonin
___ 8. Touch, Eye Contact
___ 9. Pets
___10. Music and Song
___11.Socialize
___12. Watch a movie
___13. Do something nice for someone or volunteer
___14. Smile

___  1. Compassion
___  2. Vitamin D
___ 3. Vitamin C
___ 4. Magnesium
___ 5. Laughter
___ 6. Chamomile
___ 7. Melatonin
___ 8. Touch, Eye Contact
___ 9. Pets
___10. Music and Song
___11.Socialize
___12. Watch a movie
___13. Do something nice for someone or volunteer
___14. Smile

___  1. Compassion
___  2. Vitamin D
___ 3. Vitamin C
___ 4. Magnesium
___ 5. Laughter
___ 6. Chamomile
___ 7. Melatonin
___ 8. Touch, Eye Contact
___ 9. Pets
___10. Music and Song
___11.Socialize
___12. Watch a movie
___13. Do something nice for someone or volunteer
___14. Smile

 

By Sarah Edwards, Ph.D., LCSW. If you are interested in any subject on this site, please contact me.