The Science Behind Oxytocin Nasal Spray for Anxiety and Depression (2024)

Hugging someone you care for isn’t just a romantic or bonding experience.

It also triggers the release of oxytocin, the “love” hormone.

Oxytocin is a brain chemical that plays an important role in strengthening social bonds and deepening emotional connections with other people.

For moms, it helps promote contractions during child delivery.

But for some people, oxytocin can also help manage anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.

Therefore, if you’ve been struggling with emotional ups and downs that Prozac and Valium can’t alleviate, oxytocin is worth a try.

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of oxytocin and how the use of oxytocin nasal spray can help alleviate depressive symptoms, feelings of anxiousness, and mood disorders.

Table of Contents

What is the “Love Hormone” Oxytocin?

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Oxytocin is a neuropeptide hormone produced by the hypothalamus.

It plays a critical role in many different behaviors, including desire, trust, and social recognition.

The hormone is also released during skin-to-skin contact, org*sm/ejacul*tion, and sexual arousal in men and women, hence its nickname as the “love hormone”.

In women, oxytocin is released by the posterior pituitary gland during childbirth to stimulate the contraction of the uterine muscles.

It gets released again during breastfeeding and nipple stimulation, promoting milk ejection and bonding between the mother and the baby.

In men, oxytocin is critical in the production of testosterone and sperm transportation.

But it also supports other health benefits, particularly in the domains of cognitive and mental health.

The Connection Between Oxytocin Levels and Mood Disorders

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Research has found that people with mood disorders have an enlarged amygdala.

The amygdala, found near the hippocampus, is a small part of the brain that plays a major role in processing emotions such as feelings of anxiety, pleasure, anger, and fear.

When the amygdala is over-activated due to stress or fear, it can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

This abnormality can also result in psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic, and bipolar disorders when not addressed immediately.

Recently, a study published in the Medeniyet Medical Journal showed that patients with mood, bipolar, and anxiety disorders have low oxytocin levels.

Oxytocin treatment helps modulate the HPA axis and boosts the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, thereby helping people address mood disorders.

Moreover, it helps to change the firing of the amygdala in response to stress, making oxytocin a potent mediator of human social behavior.

Can Oxytocin Spray Help Reduce Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression?

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German researchers described oxytocin as an important component of a complex neurochemical system that allows the body to adapt to highly emotive situations.”

Therefore, this neuropeptide can help reduce stress responses, including anxiety and depression.

When you are stressed, a series of events occur in the brain that activate the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis.

When activated, the HPA axis promotes the secretion of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a peptide hormone that drives the body’s response to stress.

CRF then produces and secretes glucocorticoids and ACTH, which triggers the adrenal glands to produce and release the cortisol (the “stress hormone”).

Moreover, oxytocin also regulates cortisol.

Cortisol is released in response to stress and helps the body cope with stressful situations.

However, chronically high levels of cortisol can lead to anxiety and other health problems.

Oxytocin helps to counteract this by reducing cortisol levels, thus helping to alleviate stress and its negative effects on the body.

Benefits of Intranasal Oxytocin for Anxiety Disorders

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Fights Stress

As we already know, oxytocin can help alleviate stress due to its ability to limit the release of cortisol.

In a study in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry, healthy men given oxytocin had reduced levels of anxiety and stress while experiencing a greater sense of calmness, as shown in the Trier Social Stress Test:

“In a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, 37 healthy men were exposed to the Trier Social Stress Test.

All participants were randomly assigned to receive intranasal oxytocin (24 IU) or placebo 50 min before stress, and either social support from their best friend during the preparation period or no social support.

Salivary-free cortisol levels were suppressed by social support in response to stress.

Comparisons of pre- and post-stress anxiety levels revealed an anxiolytic effect of oxytocin.

More importantly, the combination of oxytocin and social support exhibited the lowest cortisol concentrations as well as increased calmness and decreased anxiety during stress.”

Oxytocin can also help minimize stress responses in the amygdala, a region in the brain that plays a critical role in regulating emotional processes:

“Social transmission of fear is not restricted to visual or auditory cues but extends to the phylogenetically more ancient olfactory domain. Anxious individuals exhibit heightened sensitivity towards chemosensory stress signals in sweat; however, it is still unknown whether endogenous neuromodulators such as the peptide hormone oxytocin (OXT) influence the chemosensory communication of stress.

Here, we investigated whether OXT selectively diminishes behavioral and neural responses to social chemosensory stress cues utilizing a randomized, double-blind, placebo (PLC)-controlled, within-subject functional MRI study design.

Axillary sweat was obtained from 30 healthy male donors undergoing the Trier Social Stress Test (stress) and bicycle ergometer training (sport).

Subsequently, 58 healthy participants (30 females) completed a forced-choice emotional face recognition task with stimuli of varying intensities (neutral to fearful) while they were exposed to both sweat stimuli and a non-social control odor following intranasal OXT or PLC administration, respectively.

OXT diminished stress-induced recognition accuracy and response time biases towards fear.

On the neural level, OXT reduced stress-evoked responses in the amygdala in both sexes, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in females, and the hippocampus in males.

Furthermore, OXT reinstated the functional connectivity between the ACC and the fusiform face area that was disrupted by stress odors under PLC.

Our findings reveal a new role for OXT signaling in the modulation of chemosensory communication of stress in humans.

Mechanistically, this effect appears to be rooted in a downregulation of stress-induced limbic activations and concomitant strengthening of top-down control descending from the ACC to the fusiform face area.”

Moreover, breastfeeding moms who take oxytocin have lower stress levels compared to those who don’t, as evidenced in a paper published by the American Psychological Association:

“The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) enhances maternal behavior and decreases blood pressure (BP) and stress responses in animals.

Thus, the relationship of OT responsivity to BP in 14 breast- and 11 bottle-feeding mothers of infants was examined.

Laboratory BP was assessed during baseline, speech preparation, active speech, and recovery on 2 days, 1 in which baseline and speech were separated by 10 min of baby holding and the other by no baby contact.

Systolic BP reactivity to speech was lower after baby contact. Plasma OT changes from baseline to speech after baby contact defined OT increase, minimal OT change, and OT decrease groups.

OT-increased mothers were primarily breast-feeders, and they had lower BP throughout both stress sessions and after baby feeding at home than OT-decreased mothers, who also had greater BP reactivity to preparation and recovery.

These results suggest that oxytocin has antistress and BP-lowering effects in humans.”

Improves Mood

The feel-good hormone oxytocin has a calming effect that can impact your mood.

It lowers cortisol levels, making it an effective anti-anxiety and antidepressant peptide.

In one study, rats given 0.01 and 0.1 μg/kg of oxytocin had reduced background anxiety when the peptide was administered subcutaneously instead of being delivered into the ventricles of the brain:

“Male rats were given oxytocin either subcutaneously (SC) or intracerebroventricularly (ICV) into the lateral ventricles before fear-potentiated startle testing.

Oxytocin doses of 0.01 and 0.1 μg/kg SC reduced background anxiety.

ICV administration of oxytocin at doses from 0.002 to 20 μg oxytocin had no effect on background anxiety or cue-specific fear-potentiated startle.

The 20 μg ICV dose of oxytocin did reduce acoustic startle in non-fear-conditioned rats.

These studies indicate that oxytocin is potent and effective in reducing background anxiety when delivered peripherally, but not when delivered into the cerebroventricular system.

Oxytocin given systemically may have anti-anxiety properties that are particularly germane to the hypervigilance and exaggerated startle typically seen in many anxiety and mental health disorder patients.”

A scientific report in Nature also revealed that soccer players who won their tournament had lower cognitive anxiety, increased self-confidence scores, and higher oxytocin levels than those who lost:

“It is well known that soccer sport has the potential for high levels of stress and anxiety and that these are linked to Cortisol (C) variations.

To date, much research has been devoted to understanding how Oxytocin (OT) can affect anxiety in response to a challenge.

The aim of this study was to investigate, in 56 young male soccer players, the psychophysiological stress response 96 and 24 h before one soccer match of a tournament, in order to establish whether athletes who won or lost, show different levels of C and OT or expressions of competitive state anxiety subcomponents.

We found that winners had significantly lower Cognitive anxiety and higher Self-confidence scores than losers.

Also, significant differences between winners and losers in C and OT concentrations were observed, with higher OT levels in who has won and higher C levels in who has lost.

Our results showed interesting associations between OT, C, anxiety feelings, and the outcome of competition.”

Moreover, postpartum mothers given oxytocin have a lower risk of experiencing postpartum depression, as shown in a Archives of Women’s Mental Health study:

“Postpartum depression (PPD) affects up to 19% of all mothers, with detrimental effects on both mother and child.

The antidepressant and anxiolytic effects of plasma oxytocin are well-documented, but it is still disputable whether synthetic oxytocin (synOT) may protect women against postpartum mood alterations.

The current study examined the association between synOT intrapartum and maternal mood postpartum using a prospective design.

Two hundred sixty women were screened for depressive symptoms in the last trimester of pregnancy and then again 6 weeks and 9 months postpartum using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.

They also completed Maternity Blues Questionnaire in the first postpartum week. The data concerning the intrapartum interventions and health status of the newborn were extracted from the medical records.

Cox proportional hazards regression adjusted for a history of depression, mode of delivery, and childbirth experience showed that synOT predicted a significantly lower risk of PPD (HR = 0.65, 95% CI 0.45–0.95, p = 0.025).

The risk factors for PPD included a history of depression (HR = 3.20, 95% CI 2.33–4.40, p < 0.001) and negative childbirth experience (HR = 1.39, 95% CI 1.01–1.90, p = 0.040).

Logistic regression adjusted for the same covariates found no significant effect of synOT on maternity blues (OR = 0.64, 95% CI 0.31–1.32, p = 0.23).

While synOT administered intrapartum does not affect maternal mood immediately, it may come to effect some weeks after childbirth to protect mothers from developing PPD symptoms.”

Social Interaction

Oxytocin has been reported to increase trust and generosity in people while reducing their fear of being betrayed.

This has been shown in test subjects who played the Ultimatum Game.

The Ultimatum Game involves one player receiving a sum of money and suggesting how to divide it between themselves and another player. The second player then decides whether to accept or reject this proposal.

If accepted, the money is split as proposed. If rejected, both players end up with nothing.

In a study from PLoS One, players of the Ultimatum Game who were given 40 IU of oxytocin showed increased generosity by 80% compared to the placebo group.

“Human beings routinely help strangers at costs to themselves. Sometimes the help offered is generous-offering more than the other expects.

The proximate mechanisms supporting generosity are not well-understood, but several lines of research suggest a role for empathy.

In this study, participants were infused with 40 IU oxytocin (OT) or placebo and engaged in a blinded, one-shot decision on how to split a sum of money with a stranger that could be rejected.

Those on OT were 80% more generous than those given a placebo.

OT had no effect on a unilateral monetary transfer task dissociating generosity from altruism.

OT and altruism together predicted almost half the interpersonal variation in generosity.

Notably, OT had a twofold larger impact on generosity compared to altruism. This indicates that generosity is associated with both altruism as well as an emotional identification with another person.”

The peptide can also increase empathy and trust in men, even after a period of social alienation:

“There is growing evidence that the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) facilitates various forms of sensitivity to others, but the mechanism by which OT enhances empathy in humans is unclear. I

In this study, we examined whether OT increases empathy by the way of blurring the distinction between self and other, or by enhancing the difference between self and other.

In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subject crossover design, empathic responses of healthy participants were compared when imagining oneself (i.e., self-perspective empathy) versus when imagining the other (i.e., other-perspective empathy) in painful and nonpainful situations.

Under OT treatment, participants expressed more empathy when imagining others than when imagining oneself in pain.

This was in contrast to the placebo condition where there were no differences between the empathic responses during the self- and the other-perspective.

We propose that the modulatory effect of OT on empathy when taking the other-perspective may be mediated by its role in self- and other-distinctiveness and corollary by its role in increasing salience to social agents and cues.”

How to Use Intranasal Oxytocin Safely

The Science Behind Oxytocin Nasal Spray for Anxiety and Depression (5)

Since oxytocin isn’t absorbed orally, you must use a nasal spray.

Start with 1 or 2 sprays in each nostril, reapplying the spray every few minutes as needed (i.e. 4-8 IU per spray).

If you prefer not to use the spray method, you can drip oxytocin into your nostril with your head tilted back (1 drop = 1 spray).

You can also spray oxytocin in the back of your throat or under your tongue, although this may be less effective due to the enzymes in your saliva.

How Quickly Does Oxytocin Nasal Spray Work?

Oxytocin nasal spray works quickly, typically showing positive effects like increased trust and social interaction within 45 to 80 minutes after use.

In a study involving eight healthy Caucasian men, participants showed increased oxytocin plasma levels just 30 minutes after using the nasal spray (note: oxytocin levels returned to baseline within 90 to 150 minutes post-administration).

Side Effects of Oxytocin Spray

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Oxytocin is generally safe, but like all peptides and medications, it can have side effects when dosing protocols aren’t properly followed.

First-time users might experience side effects such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting

While oxytocin is known for improving bonding, it can also promote prejudice and favoritism, resulting in the creation of “in” groups and “out” groups.

Additionally, some studies report the use of oxytocin can lead to feelings of dishonesty and envy.

Although more research is needed in this area, these negative effects are prominent in people with underlying psychiatric disorders.

Jay’s Closing Thoughts

I personally have used injectable oxytocin with my wife Monica and received what I would describe as ‘decent’ results.

My advice is always the same with any peptide: Start at the lowest dose possible, assess all effects, and titrate up slowly.

Where to Buy Oxytocin Nasal Spray or the Injectable form

The Science Behind Oxytocin Nasal Spray for Anxiety and Depression (7)

Oxytocin nasal spray not only helps with navigating social interactions but may also treat anxiety and depression.

This “love hormone” improves emotional bonding and social behaviors, making it a promising tool for those struggling with mood disorders.

But before you run out and buy oxytocin, make sure you only get a high-quality formulation from a reliable vendor.

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The Science Behind Oxytocin Nasal Spray for Anxiety and Depression (2024)
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