Generosity and oxytocin

Yes: I do indeed talk an awful lot about the hormone, oxytocin. But I am continually impressed at the marvelous effects this hormone exerts on humans (as well as other creatures, such as domesticated dogs, who developed gene variants that cause increased levels of oxytocin, believed to explain the intense attachment a dog can have for its human owner). You likely recognize oxytocin as the hormone of love and empathy, a hormone that surges briefly when you kiss your mate or pet your dog. But it is so much more than that. If you’ve been following my conversations, you also know that ladies go nuts for the skin health benefits it provides such as smoother, moister skin, while guys love the restoration of youthful strength and muscle mass. I love it because I now sleep restfully through the night despite decades of insomnia.

But my primary interest is what oxytocin does for human behavior, social interaction, sexual health, and maternal health. Among these effects are:

  • Increased feelings of empathy for other people
  • Increased trust of other people
  • Increased social cognition—i.e., the ability to “read” another person’s thoughts and emotions
  • Increased generosity
  • Plays a role in determining morality
  • Increased desire for social connection, reduction in social anxiety (anxiety experienced in social settings)
  • Tolerance for the opinions of others
  • The ability to meet the gaze of another person’s eyes that can generate a powerful emotional connection. (Note that dogs are among the rare species who can also engage a human’s gaze.)
  • Increased sexual interest—in both men and women
  • Enhances maternal attachment of a mother for her baby. Conversely, a lack of oxytocin impairs bonding and increases the odds of experiencing postpartum depression
  • Increased expression of breast milk for lactation
  • May play an important role in self-consciousness, i.e., awareness of self
  • Generating feelings of hope and optimism—conversely, people with lower levels of oxytocin are more prone to entertaining suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide

Imagine the opposite: loss of empathy, loss of trust, not recognizing the feelings of others, selfishness and narcissism, putting your own interests ahead of others, reduced desire for connection and reduced sexual interest, weakening of the bond between mother and child, thoughts of suicide. In many ways, oxytocin defines human behavior and the human experience.

The majority of us have lost much of the ability to produce this hormone that essentially defines the human experience. Yes, you can still experience a momentary surge with hugging your child or petting your dog, but the capacity to generate sustained high levels of oxytocin has largely been lost.

96% of modern Americans have lost the intestinal microbe, Lactobacillus reuteri, that provides a major trigger for the brain’s release of oxytocin. No amount of petting your dog is going to provide a continuous around-the-clock stimulation of oxytocin. The perennial challenge with the direct administration of oxytocin is that there is no practical means to do so: intravenous or intramuscular injection lasts only a few minutes; intranasal oxytocin is cumbersome (3 squirts in each nostril every 6 hours and, even then, its effects are limited and dissipate within 60-90 minutes); if taken orally, oxytocin is promptly degraded to amino acids and rendered inactive.

Are you coming to comprehend the enormity of experiencing greater levels of endogenous production of oxytocin achieved simply by restoring a lost microbe? Yes: Let L. reuteri yogurt that amplifies and repopulates your gastrointestinal tract with this important microbe change the world by restoring some of the lost aspects of humanity provided by oxytocin.