The hormone and neuropeptide oxytocin is a key player in our ability to establish meaningful relationships. It also plays an influential role in reproduction, birth and breast feeding. Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland. As a hormone, it is responsible for signaling STUFF to happen in other parts of the body. For example, when someone gives you a hug, oxytocin is released from the pituitary gland into the brain and makes you feel safe and calm ... even petting the family dog has been shown to stimulate the release of oxytocin.
Acting as a neuropeptide, oxytocin works closely with serotonin and dopamine giving the trio the name "the happy hormones". The most common nickname you'll see used for oxytocin is The Love Hormone because research has shown an increase during hugging, sexual intercourse and orgasms, and the more we engage in these behaviours, the more our brain releases oxytocin!
For pregnant women, Oxytocin plays multiple roles. During labour, the brain releases oxytocin into the bloodstream. When it reaches the uterus it causes contraction of the muscles of the uterine wall. It also acts through a "positive feedback" mechanism, meaning that as more contractions happen, more oxytocin is released. Therefore creating a carefully timed and measured contraction rhythm for labour and delivery.
After your baby is born, oxytocin is responsible for lactation and mother and baby bonding. When the nipples are stimulated by hand or by a suckling baby, the brain releases oxytocin both into the brain and the bloodstream. The oxytocin released to the bloodstream travels to the breast and causes the "let-down" of the milk for lactation. Similar to uterine contractions, this is a "positive feedback" mechanism, so that as the baby feeds more, more oxytocin release is stimulated, which in turn releases more milk.
The oxytocin released into the brain is responsible for mother and baby bonding and that feeling of connection, calm and love as you stair into each others eyes and begin to make the life long mother-child bond. This additionally increases your baby's release of oxytocin and helps them feel soothed, calm and safe.
Oxytocin has also been labelled the body's most potent natural pain modifier with one paper stating it may even act as powerfully as opioid potency. Additionally it has been shown to reduce blood pressure and the stress hormone norepinephrine. More research is being done to uncover the exact mechanism of action but there is growing body of evidence linking oxytocin use with improved pain relief in headaches, chronic back pain and fibromyalgia.
Research has shown that chiropractic adjustments in the cervical spine (the neck) create a significant release of oxytocin, playing a role in pain modulation and the feel good effect you experience after a great session with your Chiropractor!
So, in light of Valentine's Day, here are our 3 tips to stimulate your feel good love hormone, OXYTOCIN:
1. GIVE SOMEONE AN 8 SECOND HUG
2. GIVE YOUR PARTNER A MASSAGE
3. GET ADJUSTED