What is Oxytocin?

If you thought that affection was all in your head, or your heart, guess again. Just as testosterone works on men, and even on women to a certain extent, to create a very specific drive for sex, so oxytocin creates a purely physiological drive for affection and human touch.

Some have named it “the love hormone”, but since love is too big a word to think of in terms of a simply drive, we could better refer to it as “the touchy-feely hormone”. It makes the body want touch and contact.

Oxytocin is quite the party drug. It`s in on all the fun, at least as far as a peptide hormones go. From friendly hugs, to semi-innocent massages, to unmistakable caresses, the feeling of touch that is registered by the skin gets the oxytocin flowing; this in turn tells the brain that something good in going down and your body gets flooded with a warm and fuzzy feeling, increasing the chances of you liking the message, but also the messenger.

Another effective way to release oxytocin is by stimulating the nipples. During childbirth this actually brings on contractions and induces the labour. Then when breastfeeding, oxytocin is involved in drawing the milk for the baby to feed. It is released by the suckling, which created the same warm and fuzzy feelings towards the baby. Touch and affection are a critical human need, which explains why human nature built them in, by providing us with hormones that encourage getting and receiving human touch. This is especially important in babies, where depriving them of touch will influence their development.

There is a cycle of calmness related to oxytocin – it is released when you are in a calm state, and its pleasant sensation in turn increases your feeling of tranquility. Anxiety, on the other hand, reduces oxytocin levels.

Another interesting finding is that oxytocin slows down the digestive process, making calorie burning all the more efficient. This is great if you are a cavewoman, fending for your vulnerable newborn in the wild, and need to save energy, but in our times it just means that you may have a tougher time losing weight when breastfeeding. I guess that`s the price us women have to pay for being happy…

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