Oxytocin is a powerful hormone and neurotransmitter.
It’s often called the “love hormone" or “cuddle chemical” because it plays a key role in the emotional bond between a mother and her child.
It’s also released by both men and women when they are in love (116-118).
But it isn’t just involved in loving relationships.
It can also significantly affect the functioning of your brain and nervous system and impact your emotions day-to-day.
Low levels of oxytocin in the brain are associated with several mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, social phobia, autism, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, tinnitus, anorexia nervosa, and borderline personality disorder (120-135).
And research suggests that increasing oxytocin can:
- Reduce stress and anxiety and increase feelings of calmness and security. It does this by suppressing activity in the amygdala, the fear centre of your brain (136-149).
- Improve mood and increase feelings of contentment (150-157).
- Stimulate the vagus nerve and increase heart rate variability (158-161, 170-171).
- Reduce the release of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone (162-165).
- Reduce inflammation and accelerate healing (166-168).
- Increase creativity (169).
- Elevate pain threshold (172-173).
- Reduce withdrawal symptoms and tolerance to addictive drugs (174-176).
- Improve self-perception in social situations. It also increases enjoyment of social interactions by stimulating production of endocannabinoids (177-179).
- Increase positive personality traits such as empathy, warmth, trust, and openness (180-181).
Oxytocin clearly does a lot.
Because of this, some doctors have started prescribing intranasal oxytocin to their patients to help them treat their symptoms (119).
But you don’t necessarily need to run to your doctor and ask for a prescription.
You can follow the 25 steps below and naturally increase your oxytocin levels yourself.
Foods, Nutrients and Supplements To Increase Oxytocin Levels in the Brain
1. Vitamin D
Every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences.
Research shows that oxytocin is directly activated and controlled by Vitamin D (13-14).
Some researchers also believe that autistic children have low levels of oxytocin likely because they are deficient in Vitamin D (15-16).
Ideally, you should get your Vitamin D from the sun.
It’s especially important to make sure you get some sunlight in the morning to set your circadian rhythm.
It's much better and more effective than taking a Vitamin D supplement.
Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (12).
If you do decide to supplement, Vitamin D3 can be found in this all-in-one mental health supplement.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is another easy way to optimize and increase your levels of oxytocin.
One study found that Vitamin C stimulates the secretion of oxytocin (19).
As you probably know, Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables such as green peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage.
In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 1 gram of this Vitamin C every day.
Vitamin C is also included in this mental health supplement.
Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.
Unfortunately, lot of people are deficient in magnesium today (36-38).
This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity.
There are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium.
First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.
Supplementation is also a good idea. I now take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain.
Taurine is an organic compound found in food, particularly animal products. It has a wide variety of health benefits.
Researchers believe that one of the ways it improves mood and reduces anxiety is by increasing the release of oxytocin in the brain (11).
Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.
Researchers have found that caffeine significantly increases the release of oxytocin (21-23).
Perhaps this is one reason why people love getting together with friends for a coffee.
Coffee usually makes me sick because I’m extremely sensitive to mold and most coffee contains high amounts of mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold).
Most people can tolerate regular coffee just fine. But if coffee makes you feel terrible and jittery, it might be the quality of the coffee. Consider trying Kicking Horse coffee, or simply take pure caffeine, and see how you feel. You’ll likely feel better than if you consumed low-quality coffee.
Coffee and caffeine can disrupt sleep though, so make sure you don’t drink it later in the day. I have my last cup sometime between 10 in the morning and noon. If I have it any later than that, it disrupts my sleep.
Lastly, it's also a good idea to try to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just the coffee bean or pure caffeine.
Traditionally, the coffee bean is extracted from the coffee fruit for roasting. And the surrounding fruit is discarded.
But that’s a huge problem!
Because the coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.
And after years of careful clinical research, scientists have discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function.
Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone and responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system.
Estrogen has been found to increase the synthesis and secretion of oxytocin and increase the expression of oxytocin receptors in the brain (30).
Other studies show that even just a single dose of estradiol can significantly increase circulating oxytocin levels and reduce anxiety (31-32).
I recommend both men and women get their hormone levels checked regularly and optimize them with hormone replacement therapy if necessary. Not only can it increase your oxytocin levels, but it can also really improve your overall quality of life.
7. Lactobacillus Reuteri
Lactobacillus reuteri is a bacterium with anti-inflammatory effects that scientists first discovered in the 1980s.
It’s one of the most promising psychobiotics for anxiety.
Therefore, you may need to supplement with it to introduce and maintain high levels of it.
One study found that the absence of lactobacillus reuteri causes social deficits in animals. By adding it back in to the guts of the animals, the researchers were able to reverse some of their behavioural deficits, which were similar to symptoms of social anxiety and autism in humans (24-25).
Lactobacillus reuteri is included in the Optimal Biotics supplement.
It's also found in breast milk, and some meat and dairy products.
This anti-anxiety supplement includes chamomile, along with a number of other natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress and anxiety over the years. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.
9. Oleoylethanolamide (OEA)
Oleoylethanolamide (OEA) is a molecule produced in the body. It’s responsible for the feeling of being full after meals and may help with weight loss.
Multiple studies show that OEA stimulates the secretion of oxytocin and increases levels of oxytocin in the brain (50-54).
I haven’t tried it yet, but there are OEA supplements available on Amazon.
I’m going to try it and report back.
Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. It helps control your sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythm), and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.
More than one study has shown that 500 mcg of melatonin significantly increases secretion of oxytocin (33-35).
You can get 500 mcg of melatonin here.
Or take this sleep supplement, which contains magnesium and a number of other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.
Besides supplementation, here are some other actions you can take to naturally produce more melatonin:
- Expose your eyes to sun in the morning.
- Blue light significantly suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, leading to disrupted sleep patterns and abnormal functioning of your nervous system. You can read more about the problem with getting too much blue light here. As soon as it’s dark outside, you should avoid sources of blue light. Turn off household lights, get red light bulbs, install f.lux on your computer and wear glasses that block out blue light. I wear these glasses. They block out blue light in your environment.
- Sleep in a dark environment. Completely black out your room with curtains and wear a sleep mask overnight. Sleeping with lights on in your room decreases neurogenesis and impairs cognitive performance (276). If you need to have light in your room (nightlight or alarm clock), it’s better to have red, orange or amber lighting rather than blue.
- Melatonin secretion can be disrupted by EMF exposure, so turn off cellphones, Wi-Fi and other electrical devices while you sleep.
I experimented with this fenugreek supplement and liked the effects, but no longer take it regularly.
12. Jasmine Oil (Jasminum Officinale)
Jasmine Oil is a popular essential oil derived from the Jasminum Officinale flower.
There is lots of research that suggests that it has positive affects on the nervous system (59-62).
And a systematic study found that aromatherapy with Jasmine Oil can increase levels of oxytocin (58).
After living in a moldy home, I researched and experimented with a number of essential oils. I found they supported my immune system and mood as I recovered. Here is the Jasmine Oil that I took.
It can either be inhaled through the nose or applied directly to the skin. You can also diffuse it in your home using a diffuser.
13. Clary Sage Oil (Salvia sclarea)
Clary Sage Oil is a relaxing essential oil derived from the Salvia sclarea plant.
And just last year, researchers found that inhaling Clary Sage Oil increases oxytocin in pregnant women (67-69).
After living in a moldy home, I researched and experimented with a number of essential oils. I found they supported my immune system and mood as I recovered. Here is the Clary Sage Oil that I took.
Lifestyle Habits, Therapies and Practices to Increase Oxytocin Levels in the Brain
Not surprisingly, there is a ton of research showing that interpersonal touch quickly increases oxytocin levels in the brain (107).
This obviously includes kissing, cuddling, and sex. But non-sexual touch such as hugging and shaking hands increases oxytocin as well (105, 108-115).
But Dr. Paul Zak, author of the Trust Factor, recommends much more than just one hug every day; he recommends eight hugs every day.
So get out there and start hugging people… just make sure it’s welcome by the other people. :)
15. Loving-Kindness Meditation
Loving-kindness meditation, or metta, is a meditation practice designed to enhance feelings of kindness and compassion for yourself and others.
While meditating, you repeat positive phrases to yourself, think positively of other people, and direct well-wishes and love towards them.
For example, you could close your eyes, simply think about a friend of family member, and repeat over and over that “they are wonderful”. Simply repeat this thought to yourself over and over, while pushing away any other negative thoughts that arise.
Researchers believe that you give yourself a boost in oxytocin when you do this and may even up-regulate oxytocin receptors (71).
Loving-kindness meditation can also help you overcome trauma.
Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to increase oxytocin (76).
Research has shown that acupuncture can affect the synthesis, release and action of several neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, including oxytocin (72).
Animal studies have also demonstrated that acupuncture elevates oxytocin concentration in certain brain regions (73-75).
I’m a really big fan of auricular acupuncture. Auricular acupuncture is when needles are inserted into ear. I’d recommend trying to find a health practitioner in your area who provides it, especially if you’re weening off psychiatric medication. It really helped me the first time I came off antidepressants. I was surprised.
In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture. I’m not sure why. I’ve just personally noticed more benefits from ear acupuncture.
I also use this acupuncture mat at home to relax before bed.
Animals have a way of calming us, and it’s because they increase our oxytocin levels.
Research shows that just touching your pets lowers your blood pressure and increases your oxytocin levels.
One study found that oxytocin levels increased in both humans and dogs after just five minutes of petting. This may explain the emotional bonding between humans and dogs (77).
Even just staring into your dog’s eyes can trigger the release of oxytocin in the brain and increase your levels (78).
So if you’re trying to maximize your oxytocin levels, you should try to hang out with animals as much as possible, and consider getting a house pet if you don’t have one.
Research shows that massage can significantly increase oxytocin levels and reduce stress hormones (79, 83).
This is why I personally get a massage from a registered massage therapist every couple of months.
It’s important to note that one study found that a light massage is more effective at increasing oxytocin than a deep-tissue Swedish massage (80-82).
So you may want to ask your massage therapist to take it easy and give you a gentle rubdown.
19. Listen to Music and Sing
Music is actually healing and can have a calming effect on the brain by increasing oxytocin levels.
In one study, patients who underwent open-heart surgery listened to soothing music for 30 minutes one day after their surgery. And they had significantly higher levels of oxytocin compared to those who were simply told to rest in bed (86).
Slow-tempo music has also been shown to increase both oxytocin and heart-rate variability (88).
What’s even better is singing along with the music.
Researchers have found that singing for 30 minutes significantly increases oxytocin levels in both amateur and professional singers, regardless of whether they enjoyed singing the song (87, 91).
Perhaps this explains why mothers often sing lullabies to their newborn babies – it may encourage bonding by increasing the release of oxytocin.
Lastly, making music together in a group leads to a significant release in oxytocin and reduction in stress (89-90).
So if you play an instrument, put together a band and start jamming.
Yoga is a popular “mind-body” relaxation technique that increases the activity of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.
Researchers believe it works because it increases oxytocin levels in the brain by stimulating the vagus nerve (85).
In one study, researchers found that yoga significantly increased oxytocin levels and improved socio-occupational functioning in patients with schizophrenia. The researchers concluded that yoga should be used to manage schizophrenia because of the improvement in oxytocin levels (84).
If you're interested in yoga, I recommend checking out Kalimukti. They offer tailored online yoga classes taught by qualified practitioners, allowing you to practice whenever and wherever you want.
And now I’ve learned that positive social interactions can also increase oxytocin (93).
Researchers have found that your brain releases more oxytocin during social contact and social bonding, and this can actually speed up healing from disease (92).
So my advice is to talk to people whenever you get the chance, and hang out with your friends and family as much as possible. I should probably be taking my own advice here because I’m an introvert and don’t socialize too much.
22. Intermittent Drinking
You’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting. I’ve discussed it a lot in other articles.
But you likely haven’t heard of intermittent drinking.
The typical mainstream advice is to drink eight glasses of water every day.
I don’t follow that. I simply listen to my body and drink when I’m thirsty.
And it appears that simply taking breaks from drinking water can increase oxytocin.
Recent research shows that drought, and the “homeostatic disturbances” that lead to the “feeling of thirst”, activate specific oxytocin-producing parts of the brain (94-95).
Researchers believe that “intermittent bulk drinking” could increase oxytocin signalling, recover human trust, and increase health by reducing stress and inflammation (94-95).
If you think of it from an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. Your ancestors likely consumed as much water as they could when they got the chance, but then went longer periods of time when they couldn’t and didn’t drink any water.
Just like intermittent fasting, intermittent drinking doesn’t necessarily mean you drink less water throughout the day though.
You can simply drink a lot of water whenever you get thirsty. And then you stop drinking any water until you are thirsty again.
That’s how all animals and human newborns behave. But we’ve been brainwashed to think we need to be sipping on water all the time.
23. Warm and Cold Temperatures
Exposing yourself to both warm and cold temperatures can also increase oxytocin levels.
Researchers have found that hot environments, warm temperatures and increased sweating activate specific oxytocin-producing parts of the brain (94-96).
New research also suggests that cold exposure significantly upregulates oxytocin levels in the brain (97-100).
So if you want to optimize your oxytocin levels, try pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and expose your body to the acute stress of extreme temperatures.
What I like to do is take a warm shower, but then finish it off with 1-2 minutes of cold.
Cold showers also stimulate the vagus nerve.
24. Eat (Healthy) Food
Eating food also increases oxytocin, and it’s easily accessible by anyone.
Food activates touch receptors in your mouth, which then stimulates the release of oxytocin (102).
This is why eating makes people feel calm and satisfied, and often opens them up for social interaction, bonding and attachment.
The obvious downside to all of this is that you may be tempted to overeat unhealthy foods to stimulate the release of oxytocin, so that you feel better and less stressed. And oxytocin is one reason why you may have a hard time breaking bad eating habits.
But don’t worry; just stick to the healthy foods included in my free grocery shopping guide and you won’t have a problem.
25. Watch a Movie
Everyone loves a good movie.
And it’s probably because it increases oxytocin.
Research shows that compelling narratives cause the synthesis and release of oxytocin (101).
And this has the power to affect our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours (101).
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Reviewed by Dr. Richard Nahas, MD CCFP DCAPM ABIM