Oxytocin Levels: Genetics of the Love Hormone

The hormone, oxytocin, is produced in the hypothalamus region of the brain. Often referred to as the “love hormone”, it is involved in parental/infant bonding, recognition of other’s emotions, and overall social involvement.

What is Oxytocin?

During childbirth, oxytocin production is high to allow the cervix to relax and to cause contractions. Interestingly, it also crosses the placenta and acts on the neurotransmitters of the baby, preparing him or her for birth. After birth, its involvement includes breastfeeding and milk let down.

Outside of the physiological roles in childbirth, oxytocin acts as in the brain as a neuropeptide and influences social activity and group bonding.

Oxytocin is also important in the synaptic plasticity in the neurons of the brain. This makes it vital for memory and learning.[ref]

How is oxytocin made?

Oxytocin synthesis occurs in a series of steps, starting with the OXT gene, which creates the inactive precursor needed for the hormone. The final activation happens because of catalyzation by the PAM enzyme, which needs vitamin C as a co-factor.

In general, genetic variants that decrease oxytocin production have shown in psychological studies to decrease a person’s social sensitivity and empathy.  Before all of you with high oxytocin levels start thinking “oh no, poor thing” (ha!), there are some positive outcomes from not being as emotional. Genetic variants linked to lower empathy and less socially sensitive were found to be more resilient in the face of childhood maltreatment.[ref][ref]

A mother’s oxytocin levels also play a role in a baby’s response to early life stress, both before and after the baby is born. Yes, you can blame your mom if your brain isn’t wired the same way as others.[ref]

Interestingly, culture seems to play a role in the interpretation of the oxytocin gene variants. For example, one study found that white Americans with a genetic variant were likely to seek out emotional support, Koreans were not.[ref]


Genetic variants in the OXTR gene:

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There are a couple of common genetic variants that influence a person’s level of oxytocin.

Check your genetic data for rs53576 (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):

  • G/G: More oxytocin, empathetic, optimistic, seeks and gives emotional support[ref][ref]
  • A/G: Not as empathetic, not generally as social with groups
  • A/A: Not as empathetic, not generally as social with groups[ref]

Members: Your genotype for rs53576 is .

Check your genetic data for rs1042778 (23andMe v4; AncestryDNA)

  • G/G: More oxytocin, more socially empathetic, less inhibited, possibly more creative[ref]
  • G/T: Less empathetic, more socially inhibited[ref], possibly more creative
  • T/T: Less emotional and social[ref], higher levels of antisocial behavior in men[ref]

Members: Your genotype for rs1042778 is .

 


Lifehacks

Looking to change your oxytocin levels? Here are several ways that research shows to alter your levels.

Behavior hacks:

Petting a dog increases both the human and dog oxytocin levels.[ref]  Another study showed that a dog gazing at you could increase oxytocin levels.[ref]  Gives new meaning to “puppy-dog eyes”.

Creativity has links to oxytocin levels. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that intranasal oxytocin “reduced analytical reasoning, and increased holistic processing, divergent thinking, and creative performance.”

Listening to music may increase oxytocin levels.[ref]

Loving-kindness meditation may increase your oxytocin levels.[ref]

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I’ll leave you with some cute puppies gazing at you….  awwww…. more oxytocin.

 


Related Genes and Topics:

Estrogen: How it is made and how we get rid of it
Estrogen is usually thought of as the female hormone. While it is true women produce more estrogen than men, this applies to all of us. Estrogen – from how much is made to how it is broken down – is dependent on both genetics and lifestyle factors affecting both men and women.

How do your genes influence testosterone levels?
While bodybuilding and athletes may come to mind with the word testosterone, it is actually an important hormone for all men and women. This article investigates testosterone and the genetic variants that influence your natural “T” levels. It concludes with Lifehacks to boost low testosterone levels.


About the Author:
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and also an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.