One of the greatest human phenomenons is the ability for our bodies to experience not only raw emotion, but the physical properties that come with it. We all know that when we’re sad, we cry. When we’re angry, our hearts race. But what happens to our bodies when we experience love? Shakespeare made it out to be all-consuming — (*spoiler*) even Romeo and Juliet sacrificed themselves for each other. What could possibly be so powerful that causes people to cast their inhibitions aside for the sake of love?
Oxytocin, otherwise known as the “love hormone.” Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that is “produced in the hypothalamus and released during sex, childbirth and lactation,” according to Medical News Today. In addition, the hormone can be released in certain social interactions and assists in the bonding portion of a relationship, whether it be with a romantic partner, friend, family member or child.
When two people embrace or experience feelings of intimacy, oxytocin levels increase. This is why the beginning “honeymoon phase” or falling-in-love portion of a relationship is so intoxicating and warm and fuzzy — it’s because there is a higher level of the “love hormone” being produced in the body. In a romantic setting, this is what primes our bodies to experience feelings of bonding and attachment and are built into the foundation of a relationship.
Even as it is present in both men and women, oxytocin levels are typically higher in women due to its specific purposes for reproduction, according to Psychology Today.
This also means that the intense attachment a mother forms throughout her pregnancy is due to the surplus of the oxytocin hormone. During the time ranging from pregnancy to breastfeeding, women will experience varying levels of oxytocin, which is what builds the foundation and connection between a mother and her baby. For example, a study published in the Association for Psychological Science found that “women with higher levels of oxytocin during their first trimester are primed to the formation of an exclusive bond with their infants. Oxytocin seems to be preparing mothers to engage in bonding behaviors.” The study also found that the “love hormone” is not only to be associated with the mental process of bonding but also with the behavioral side of bonding.
In addition to its natural production during pregnancy, oxytocin is also able to be manufactured and produced as a prescription drug to help induce birth contractions during labor, according to Medical News Today.
Whether it is oxytocin or estrogen or testosterone, hormones may play a massive role in our overall health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, when we go in for a routine check-up, hormones aren’t the first thing that doctors will ask about — but checking their balance is just as important as checking one’s blood pressure or heartbeat, ultimately because hormones have a direct correlation to how we feel both physically and mentally.
According to Psychology Today, hormones “can serve a wide range of functions, from slowing growth to stimulating it and from activating the immune system to inhibiting it.” Hormone levels, such as our friend oxytocin, play a significant role in influencing our social behaviors, everyday lives and overall health — so it is crucial we take care of them the best we can.
Even though we are not in control of our own hormone production levels throughout our bodies, we can control the nature of our environments and the way we go about living our lives. This April, whether it be with your family or friends or significant others, take the time to visit with those in your life who are close to your heart — it could mean the world to your overall health and mental wellbeing.