Massage and The Oxytocin Connection
Those feelings of bonding and connection you get when you make love, hug a friend, breathe deeply, walk in nature or pet your cat? They are generated because of the release of Oxytocin, often called the ‘love hormone’.
Oxytocin originates in the brain’s hypothalamus and is secreted into the bloodstream by the pituitary. It is a neurotransmitter that affects numerous psychological and physiological responses in the body’s nervous system. Oxytocin also works with an opposing hormone, vasopressin (part of stimulation process that produces the stress hormone, cortisol) to create a healthy and balanced response to external life experiences. There is evidence that oxytocin plays a significant role in our ability to socialise and create connections with each other.
The Effects of Oxytocin
While Oxytocin has historically been associated with its effects on childbirth, lactation, and mother-child bonding, it has more recently been found to influence the growth of such traits as trust and empathy. Its presence also seems to diminish anxiety and aggression.
Recent studies also suggest that oxytocin:
- Might lower the hyperactivity and repetitive behaviours in autism
- Is part of the regulation of digestion which improves nutrient absorption
- Accelerates the healing capability of the body because it helps the anti-inflammatory response and refreshes mucous membranes
- Calms the fear response in the body by soothing the reactivity in our primitive brain (amygdala)
- Supports less stress which improves immune function, regulates blood pressure and helps prevent clinical depression
How to Generate Oxytocin
We can stimulate the production of this hormone by simply imagining someone we love, remembering a positive social experience, hugging a friend, through orgasms during lovemaking, being in natural settings, playing, laughing, deep breathing, listening to soothing music, eating a good meal, or by giving to others (time, money, volunteering). Massage is another potent generator of oxytocin.
Oxytocin and Massage
In general, massage helps the body cope with stress in ways that are still being revealed through research and studies. Research conducted at the University of Miami has shown that massage can increase and help regulate the availability of neuro-hormones (including Oxytocin) that affect brain chemistry and the body’s physiological and psychological responses. Numerous other studies and empirical evidence also support the findings that massage facilitates the release of natural Oxytocin:
- Research out of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles identified a reduction of stress hormones and a significant increase in oxytocin in 53 adults after they received a 45 minute massage.
- In another recent Study with 95 participants that was published in the professional peer-reviewed journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, elevated amounts of oxytocin were found in the group who received a 15-minute massage and who rested versus the control group who just rested. A significant decrease in stress hormones such as adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), nitric oxide (NO), and beta-endorphin (BE) was also measured.
- Light Swedish massage during labor (light Swedish massage) has been found to increase the flow of Oxytocin, which when combined with specific breathing sequences, can help distract the mother from the pain and offer some relief.
- Oxytocin production from light touch during massage is thought to alter the microbiology of the skin and provide many health gains such as hormonal balance, improvement in immune system, changes in skin and hair.
- People who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have higher levels of cortisol and live in a chronic state of stress. Massage and oxytocin production are being considered as a regular treatment to help reduce stress levels in PTSD sufferers.
Health begins with moving closer to love and connection. With all the stress-inducing stimuli in everyday experiences, it is easy to lean towards engaging our fears and our ‘flight or fight’ responses. Massage and its resultant Oxytocin response offer an easy and simple way back to balance and well-being.