The Cuddle Chemical Oxytocin

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

I love simple health tips. Drinking water, practicing caloric restriction, using Celtic Sea Salt, and regular deep breathing are all simple, inexpensive and easy to use strategies for improving health and well-being. And now it turns out, simple eye contact can up-regulate brain biochemicals that are associated with improved health care. While most of us intuitively understand looking someone in the eye can have beneficial effects most people don’t realize the biochemical logic behind the benefits associated with eye contact.


By Edgar181, via Wikimedia Commons

It all comes down to the cuddle chemical oxytocin, or as Dr. Paul Zak calls it in his book of the same title “The Moral Molecule”. Sometimes referred to as the “Biochemical of Love”, oxytocin is best known as a labor induction substance; the word oxytocin literally means “sharp (sudden) delivery”. Women who are undergoing a painful childbirth will be given an intravenous oxytocin drip designed to speed up the labor process, but oxytocin does so much more than improving uterine contractions and dampening a difficult delivery.

Oxytocin is associated with many, of what can be called, virtuous behaviors including generosity, trust, gregariousness, and bonding. Signs of oxytocin deficiency are similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia including poor impulse control, anger management issues and social anxiety disorders. And, there’s an interesting relationship between oxytocin and autism. In a 1998 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry autistic children were found to have lower levels of oxytocin then their non-autistic counterparts. In another study, this one from the journal Neurophsychopharmacology published in 2003 patients showed a decrease in autistic type repetitive behaviors when oxytocin was administered intravenously.

New mom’s oxytocin levels rise when they see their newborns as does the oxytocin levels in the baby’s themselves. Adequate oxytocin levels are associated with an appropriate maternal recognition of a newborn’s unique odor. Breast feeding and baby’s mouthing of the nipples also stimulates maternal oxytocin. Oxytocin is important for stimulating maternal behaviors; it causes mom to be more caring, eager to please, more sensitive to other’s feelings, and to recognize
non-verbal cues more readily.

Oxytocin has anti-depressant properties. Brain oxytocin levels go up when we’re touched when we watch sad movies or when we’re feeling compassionate or empathetic. It’s involved in memory and learning, it stabilizes cortisol levels and it can stimulate the growth and maturation of heart cells. Some researchers believe that the feelings of love and empathy associated with the drug MDMA also known as “ecstasy” is at least partially mediated by the action of oxytocin.
Oxytocin activates cells of the parasympathetic “relaxation” nervous system, and symptoms of anxiety and nervous tension diminish. It has anti-stress benefits and can improve blood flow too. Oxytocin stimulates blood flow to the brain and to the uterus and not surprisingly it’s circulatory effects are responsible for
the cheeks rosy glow associated with sex and orgasms.


Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health