Obsessing about de-stressing? Why not raise your love hormone, oxytocin, instead? Since stress is damaging to your health, you’re under pressure to live a more relaxed life. But isn’t relaxing under duress an oxymoron? However, science assures us that stress hormones come down when oxytocin rises, wouldn’t it be simpler to focus on the pleasurable task of raising oxytoxin?
What is Oxytocin?
You might say that oxytocin is commander-in-chief of your body’s parasympathetic nervous system response. This response is commonly called the rest-and-digest state, or the connection-relaxation state. Though many hormonal and nerve changes switch the body to this response from a sympathetic, or flight-or-flight state, oxytocin oversees the process. You see, oxytocin has many more hats to wear than just making sexual intercourse pleasurable and enabling mothers to birth and nurse their babies. It enhances bonding, appears to modulate fear, and has an anti-depressant effect.
Signs You Might be Making Insufficient Oxytocin
Obviously, given the roles above, you might be low in oxytocin if:
- You have trouble bonding.
- You experience chronic depression, anxiety, or fears.
- Sexual intercourse is mechanical and/or you have trouble achieving orgasm.
- You crave addictive substances.
Here’s another sign that’s intriguing to me as a nutritional therapist: you crave sweet, high-carbohydrate foods. There is research that oxytocin counters cravings for sweets. But whether it does or not, this much is clear: stress does raise cravings for sweets. And too much of the stress hormone cortisol blunts oxytocin. So, it only stands to reason that raising oxytocin would diminish sugar cravings.
How Eating Can Raise Oxytocin
We know that social contact, looking in the eyes of loved ones, touch, warmth, and verbalizations of love and gratitude heighten oxytocin production. These factors all come together when you share a meal with family or friends. But there’s more: you need certain nutrients to make oxytocin, so eating foods high in those factors can enhance your ability to manufacture and release oxytocin.
Here are three nutrients that are effective in optimizing your oxytocin levels:
- Magnesium: This mineral has a dual function. It helps oxytocin receptors work properly, and it boosts oxytocin’s action. Because most Americans are clinically low in magnesium, you could struggle to have sufficient oxytocin due to mineral deficiency. The top foods for magnesium, believe it or not, are not bananas, although this fruit is #10 on the list. The best choices are spinach, pumpkin seeds, lima beans, tuna, and brown rice.
- Vitamin C: Oxytocin depends on this vitamin as a co-factor in its synthesis. Vitamin C also seems to stimulate oxytocin secretion. Enhance your Vitamin C stores by eating plenty of acerola cherries, chili peppers, red and yellow bell peppers, guava, parsley, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lemons, and papayas.
- Lactobacillus reuteri: This probiotic augments brain oxytocin. It is found in cultured foods, such as cheeses, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and miso.
My Favorite Ways to Raise Oxytocin
I find it delightful to strive for an oxytocin boost! It’s much more satisfying than writing “manage stress” on my to-do list. Here are just a few of my most enjoyable ways to increase the love hormone.
- Eat nutrient-rich, whole-food meals with my favorite people. I highly doubt that junk food will give me an oxytocin rush, so I leave processed, refined foods out of the equation.
- Turn up the heat. Here are several cozy options I indulge in for warming my body: sit in a sauna, soak in some hot springs, place a heated compress on my neck and shoulders, and relax with a foot soak.
- Listen to relaxing music. It’s even more beneficial to hum or sing along.
- Engage in body work. I personally find acupuncture, massage, and yoga to be very pleasurable.
- Notice the sights, scents, and sounds all around: the motion of the clouds, the chirping of birds, the smell of a pine boughs, the laughter of a child, the snapping of a campfire.
- Engage in deep inhales & long exhales, using the diaphragm, not the chest.
Remember, stress can undermine even the cleanest diet. Contact me to learn more about reducing stress hormones and eating healthier.