Oxytocin for Depression

“We now know for the first time what exactly is going on in the brain when oxytocin increases trust,” – lead researcher Dr Thomas Baumgartner

A recent study demonstrated that pregnant women with low oxytocin have a higher risk of postpartum depression. This is not surprising. Oxytocin is the bonding hormone and many studies have demonstrated how low oxytocin can cause unhappy parenting. Young fathers with low oxytocin are often indifferent or even violent. When given oxytocin spray they seem happier and are more likely to encourage their children to explore during playtime. Mothers with higher oxytocin levels are more likely to coo to their babies in a playful voice. High oxytocin mothers also smile at their babies and are more flexible to changes in its moods. They also touch more and look into their babies eyes, sing lullaby’s (singing releases oxytocin). And, of course, parents that spend more time looking into each other’s eyes release more oxytocin with each other, always a good thing in any family unit.

Mechanics of Oxytocin and depression.

Serotonin is one of our most well understood feel-good neurotransmitters and the focus of the vast majority of antidepressants. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has taught us that oxytocin works at the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor site. Serotonin is found in great density in the amygdala, the seat of all of our negative memories, fears and anxieties. Increased oxytocin in the amygdala triggers serotonin. Serotonin decreases blood pressure, heart rate, mitigates aggression and promotes calm behavior. Clearly, oxytocin and serotonin have a quid pro quo relationship that can bring faster relief and greater efficacy to any SSRI based antidepressant protocol. Oxytocin is the perfect adjunct to 5HTP therapy.

Oxytocin and Personality

Evidence suggests that the neuropeptide oxytocin plays a role in social affiliation. This behavior may be related more to personality dimensions than specific psychiatric diagnoses. This study investigated the relationship between plasma oxytocin levels and personality dimensions using the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) in 60 outpatients with major depression. The strongest correlation was between plasma oxytocin levels and the temperament dimension of Reward Dependence (0.425 Pearson correlation). This suggested that 17% of the variance in plasma oxytocin levels was explained by the Reward Dependence scores. There was a significant positive correlation between plasma oxytocin levels and the Reward Dependence personality dimension.

Nicknamed the “cuddle chemical” because it renders a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, oxytocin, (a naturally produced hormone) has been shown via brain scan to lower activity in the amygdala – a region which is overactive in social phobics. “We now know for the first time what exactly is going on in the brain when oxytocin increases trust,” lead researcher Dr Thomas Baumgartner said, “We found that oxytocin has a very specific effect in social situations. It seems to diminish our fears.”


1: Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch School of Medicine and

Health Sciences, Christchurch, New Zealand

2: Anatomy and Structural Biology, Health Sciences, Otago School of Medical

Sciences, Dunedin, New Zealand