Oxytocin’s Role On Emotional,
Mental, and Social Health
are many triggers and mediators that impact mood and behavior. I reviewed a
list of many of them in my recent blog and discussed the short-sightedness of
settling for any simplified viewpoint.
the factors that I consider for mood issues in my clients are the following:
role of inflammation and oxidative stress
·Genetic variations and predispostions (these include SNPs related to MTHFR, DRD2,
DRD4, COMT, CBS, serotonin transporters (5HTT), etc.)
factors and healthy digestion
intolerances, allergies, triggers, and deficiencies (including cerebral folate deficiency)
impact of stress and cortisol levels
bugs (the microbiome)
regulation and spirituality
of activity of various brain regions
more (click here for references and more information)
as you can see the impact of various factors on mood can’t be easily connected to one cause and packaged neatly
into a tiny pill. Still, there is one molecule that is gaining in popularity and has gotten my attention. I feel it should be added to the list of above
considerations. It’s oxytocin.
is a neuropeptide signaling molecule that is well-studied for its role in
social attachment, maternal bonding, lactation, and induction of labor. For
example, several studies have linked levels of oxytocin to postpartum
depression. Interestingly, one rodent study reported that oxytocin also interacts
with serotonin receptors, which may be one reason, amongst many others, why mood altering medications impact people differently.
For example, one
study demonstrated that methylation status interacted with genetic variations
in the receptor of oxytocin impacting its role in the risk for “baby
blues.” Interestingly, another study also showed that different variations in
oxytocin receptors were also related to optimism, mastery, and self-esteem.
its effect on mood, bonding, and social skills, it has many other roles including its
impact on psychological issues, addictions, relationship health, social
behavioral patterns, and trust. Recently, it’s also been implicated in more difficult to treat disorders, such as addictions and autism. In fact,
one study in the Journal of Neuroendroconology
reported on these various roles for oxytocin including its anti-stress effects,
relief of anxiety, and bonding behavior in animals. The authors conclude,
“Thus, the brain OXT system seems to
be a potential target for the development of therapeutics to treat anxiety- and
depression-related diseases or abnormal social behaviours including
Furthermore, other researchers have also
shown that this link between oxytocin and autism may also be prevalent in some
children with ADHD, supporting its role in social cognition. (For more on the
link with autism and several abstracts, visit my homepage article.)
In another review, the connection between addiction and oxytocin was explored. The researchers reported, “Oxytocin
interacts with the mesolimbic dopamine system to facilitate sexual and social
behaviour, and this oxytocin-dopamine interaction may also influence the
acquisition and expression of drug-seeking behaviour. An increasing body of
evidence from animal models suggests that even brief exposure to drugs such as
MDMA, cannabinoids, methamphetamine and phencyclidine can cause long lasting
deficits in social behaviour. We discuss preliminary evidence that these
adverse effects may reflect long-term neuroadaptations in brain oxytocin
of the neat things about oxytocin is that once its in your system, your body tends to want to increase it! For example, in one study where participants who received nasal
administration of oxytocin, the authors reported,
Here we show that intranasal
administration of oxytocin, a neuropeptide that plays a key role in social
attachment and affiliation in non-human mammals, causes a substantial increase
in trust among humans, thereby greatly increasing the benefits from social
interactions. We also show that the effect of oxytocin on trust is not due to a
general increase in the readiness to bear risks. On the contrary, oxytocin
specifically affects an individual’s willingness to accept social risks arising
through interpersonal interactions. These results concur with animal research
suggesting an essential role for oxytocin as a biological basis of prosocial
Some Take-Away Tips
Since we can’t all reach for a nasal oxytocin spray, we may have to settle for some other means to increase this amazing molecule of emotion. Here’s some basic tips:
- Laser focus on all you can do by yourself for modulating mood, such as eating a
healthy diet, decreasing toxic exposure, engaging in daily movement, and decreasing stress.
seeing an integrative doctor, such as a naturopathic doctor or functional
medicine practitioner, who can look at your unique genetic blueprint, nutrient
deficiencies, hormonal levels, blood sugar, oxidative stress, inflammation, and emotional factors. Furthermore, gender differences also exist with oxytocin.
oxytocin can be increased with social contact, consider hugging more, engaging in social connections, and gazing
into loved ones eyes.
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