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Oxytocin and Cortisol – What Is It, and What Does It Do to Our Bodies?

Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter and hormone that is in our bodies. This hormone is often associated with the love rush that women typically experience when breastfeeding a child but is also in use when women give birth and is a part of relationship building, empathetic emotions, and trust-building. Oxytocin also affects our sexual lives in many different aspects. 

Oxytocin is released during many different stages of the day and our lives but is commonly seen to spike when receiving or giving a hug or experiencing an orgasm. Oxytocin can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as general unhappiness. 

Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus part of the brain, and most females have higher levels of this hormone than males tend to. The oxytocin created in the hypothalamus is secreted by the pituitary gland. It’s thought that nipple stimulation triggers the release of oxytocin, which is why women who are breastfeeding may experience a “love rush” sensation. This rush and release of oxytocin may also be experienced during childbirth or sexual activity, as well as the beginning stages of a new relationship. 

Oxytocin has been shown to play a key role in labor and childbirth by helping cause contractions in the muscles. Oxytocin is released once the cervix begins to widen during childbirth, which creates more contractions. There are medications that are on the market to help with low levels of oxytocin in delivering mothers.

Oxytocin also impacts the behavior we experience socially, such as bonding and sociality with groups. Someone who is seen as an introvert may simply have a lack of oxytocin, which is preventing them from being able to build the same bonds that others may. They may not trust as easily either since this bond is never created to give them a reason to experience the trust they otherwise may have built with their friends.

 

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What does oxytocin have to do with your relationships?

Many studies have shown that couples in new relationships have higher levels of oxytocin than single people. This peak of oxytocin typically lasts up to 6 months, but of course, it is dependent on the person and the relationship. Sexual activity and play are also shown to stimulate the release of oxytocin, and oxytocin can assist in orgasms. In many new relationships, there is ample sexual activity, leading to more orgasms and more stimulation. This constant stimulation leads to more production and release of oxytocin. Often this is why we refer to this time frame in the relationship as the honeymoon phase. Since you are building a strong bond with your partner through stimulation, you are most likely experiencing a higher release of oxytocin, which allows for this constant rush and experience of love-like feelings. You are often inseparable from your partner at this time and always excited and happy to see them.

 

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Oxytocin and your emotional response.

When oxytocin enters your bloodstream, it can and may affect your emotions and your social behaviors, and potentially even your cognitive abilities. Since your body responds emotionally in ways that surround your ability to trust others in your social circle, your relaxation levels, and your overall psychological well-being, having lower levels of this hormone can be devastating on your body both physically and mentally. Oxytocin is also shown to reduce stress and anxiety, so it is very important for your body to adapt and perform adequately in emotional situations. 

What is cortisol, and what does it do to the body?

Cortisol is a hormone in your body that helps to regulate many different things such as your metabolism, and your immune system’s response to different ailments that you may experience throughout your life time. Since it directly affects your ability to lose weight, due to its correlation with your metabolism, it is also known to cause you to hold on to belly fat.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone and is made in the adrenal glands. It is then released into your blood, which is how it is transported throughout your body. Just like oxytocin, your cortisol is also based in the hypothalamus region of the brain and your pituitary gland.

How is cortisol controlled?

Your cortisol levels constantly vary throughout the day, but are typically higher in the morning upon waking up, and then falling as the day goes on. This is called diurnal rhythm. However, people who work during the night have a reversed diurnal rhythm, which shows us that cortisol release is linked to how our activity is throughout the day, and lifestyle also affects this. Extra cortisol may also be released in response to stress throughout the day. This allows our body to respond appropriately to all of these different stressors and emotional reactions. 

 

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What does it mean if I have too much cortisol?

Too much cortisol in your body can lead to many different things, such as Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing’s can cause weight gain specifically in your face, chest, and abdomen. It can also cause high blood pressure, osteoporosis, high anxiety, depression, and irritability. You may experience higher thirst levels which also lead to needing to urinate more frequently. Your muscles may feel weaker as well. High cortisol levels also lead to a lack of sex drive, and in women, it can even stop or lessen periods. The release of oxytocin is actually shown to help reduce high levels of cortisol.

What happens if I don’t have enough cortisol?

If your body doesn’t produce enough cortisol, this can be due to an issue in your pituitary or adrenal gland. This could also be something known as Addison’s disease. The symptoms of Addison’s disease might include fatigue, weight loss, muscle weakness, dizziness, and mood changes. Lack of cortisol production can actually be life-threatening, so it is imperative to get this taken care of. You will have to see an endocrinologist to determine what exactly is going on.