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Oxytocin: Bodybuilding’s Most Misunderstood Anabolic Hormone


Our research suggests that a growth hormone–IGF-1-oxytocin axis or cycle exists, as a result of the reciprocal regulating effects of each of these substances.

- Journal of Endocrinology

The quote above implies that there is constant communications between the anabolic hormones referred to as, growth hormone, insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and oxytocin. A hormone is a chemical messenger that is produced in one part of the body by an endocrine gland, such as the adrenal glands which travels via the bloodstream to other organs and tissues to modify it’s function .  For example, the hormone insulin is secreted by the pancreas to stabilize blood sugar levels when they get to high. Insulin also influences protein synthesis and how well your muscles utilize fatty acids, carbs and amino acids. Growth hormone, produced by the pituitary gland regulates cellular repair, lean tissue development , fat loss , energy production  and a multitude of other general health and restorative activities. There however is one hormone that is associated with stress management, sex, orgasms, and pain reduction that is causing quite a stir. Oxytocin, commonly known as the cuddling hormone, because it  causes the bright red flush that occurs during sexual intercourse and is responsible for the pleasurable sensations at the height of orgasm.  Manufactured primarily by the hypothalamus gland in the brain, oxytocin is also produced by the thymus, pancreas, testes, ovaries and the adrenal gland. While oxytocin isn’t as well known as it’s anabolic counterparts ( testosterone or IGF-1), emerging research shows that oxytocin enhances the production and action of all the powerful hormones cited above.

Ways To Naturally Boost Oxytocin Levels

Sex -  Increased sexual activity and orgasmic release causes increased oxytocin and endorphin production (natural painkillers), as well as a boost in natural testosterone production.   Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum M.D. the well-known holistic practitioner reminds us that an orgasm releases about 10 mgs of oxytocin, which  assists in regulating the hypothalamus.  The hypothalamus gland controls most of the other glands, hence its reference as the master gland. The thyroid (responsible for your body’s metabolic machinery) and the adrenal glands (where some of your anabolic hormones like testosterone are made) are also stimulated into action by oxytocin.

Massage –While massage isn’t usually incorporated as part of a body builders daily routine, it does provide a array of benefits. For example, studies indicate a well- planned massage program for athletes who put immense stress and strain on their muscles helps prevent injuries and aid in recovery.

Massage therapy also promotes proper healing of  exercise induced micro-damage of muscle tissue and DOMS ( delayed onset muscle soreness). Massage also improves micro-circulation and dilates blood vessels which   improves oxygen and blood to the tissues. Furthermore, massage heightens the normal flow of the lymphatic system that drains waste fluids such as lactic acid.

Please Note: While deep tissue massage is a excellent way to maximize the physiological benefits mentioned above, more gentile light massage actually stimulates the release of oxytocin at a faster and greater rate. Also in reference to sexual orgasm and the release of oxytocin, the sexual foreplay before sexual intercourse actually stimulates a more profound release of this hormone. In fact researchers at Binghamton University  studying the bio-chemical aspects of oxytocin release during foreplay found that its release is significantly enhanced with repeated sexual encounters with the same sexual partner. Hugging and touching stimulates production of this feel good anabolic hormone.  In fact, a new study from the University of North Carolina found that individuals that have more affectionate contact have higher oxytocin levels than those who don’t.

Researchers also content that oxytocin release can be as effective as the hormone serotonin that is naturally released when you exercise. Known as a natural mood elevator,serotonin also called 5-hydroxytryptamine acts as both a chemical messenger that transmits nerve signals between nerve cells and clearly plays a major role as an anti-depressive compound.  Negative changes in serotonin levels in the brain are associated with altering mood and the development of depression and muscle fatigue. Bottom line here, elevated oxytocin levels will keep you focused and your brain re-energized and you mentally prepared for your next workout.

Back To The Hypothalamus

As previously stated most of your bodies oxytocin production occurs in the hypothalamus, known as the master gland.  The hypothalamus gland actually links the nervous system to the endocrine system.  It maintains homeostasis, or in other words helps reset body systems to maintaining a sound functioning internal environment. Additionally, researchers at the Department of Pharmacology at the New York University School of Medicine found that oxytocin stimulates insulin and glucagon secretion, as well as increasing glucose production by its direct effect on increasing glucagon production.  The activation of these hormones as a result of increased oxytocin production improved the anabolic parameters as cited below in subjects:

  1. Increased energy production.
  2. Accelerated muscle repair and recovery.
  3. Increased fat burning and overall metabolic activity.
  4. Decreased muscle wasting.
  5. Increased strength and lifting capacity.
  6. Improved and stabilized blood sugar levels. This is significant, as elevated blood sugar inhibits the release of growth hormone.
  7. Increased muscle utilization of fuel.
  8. Reduced cortisol production (the muscle wasting hormone).
  9. Improved blood pressure.
  10. Reduced and improved the body mechanisms that control stress.

Off The Chain Fat-Burning

While oxytocin isn’t a household named fat-burner, its themogenic capabilities are well documented.  For example, researchers now know that oxytocin has insulin-like properties.  Insulin as discussed earlier is one of your most anabolic hormones, and has a positive affect on muscle-protein synthesis.  Oxytocin also is intimately involved with the regulation and activation of the pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) complex.  The main purpose of this physiological process is to make sure the metabolic pathways of glycolysis, (glucose being converted to latic acid) gluconeogenesis (glucose being converted to glucogen) and fatty acids synthesis stay connected and work together smoothly and efficiently! 

Why are the above processes important to your body’s fat-burning activities?  Well for starters, glycolysis is the first metabolic process that initiates most of the activity concerning carbohydrate metabolism.  Glycolysis also serves as the foundation of both aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) systems that generate cellular energy.  Gluconeogenesis is a biological process in which the body generates or produces glucose from non-sugar components and amino acids like alanine and glutamine.  While most of the body’s gluconeogenic activities occur in the liver, this process shifts into  high gear during periods of intense workouts and is extremely endergonic (an energy consuming reaction).   The third equation within the PDH complex is accelerated fatty acid synthesis.  As you are undoubtedly aware of, fatty acids are stored for future use by cells for energy.  Increased fatty acid synthesis will result in less storage of fat as the body uses it more efficiently as a fuel or for metabolic energy  and or fat-burning.

Fat-Burning While At Rest

In addition to the above, a area or mechanism of fat-burning that oxytocin is involved with,  are with substances known as uncoupling proteins ( UCP-2).  These proteins rapidly appear in the mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell that regulate metabolism and fat metabolism.  Recently researchers at Harvard University established a clear link between reduced uncoupling protein (UCP-2) activity and obesity.  Having a direct impact on the bodies resting metabolic rate (how well you burn fat at rest) the above researchers reported that UCP-2 helps increase the body’s production of its main energy molecule ATP (adenosine-tri- phosphate). The more ATP your cells have the work with determines how efficiently your body stimulates fatty acid oxidation (the use of fat stores as fuel). The correlation above and oxytocin’s impact on UCP’s was recently confirmed by researchers at the Department of Physiology at the  University of Geneva and at the Department of Human Biology at the University of Maastricht , the Netherlands. These researchers presented conclusive evidence that uncoupling proteins in skeletal muscles and brown adipose tissue regulate thermo-genesis (fat-burning), as well as how the body uses lipids (fats) as a fuel substrate.

Not Just A Female Hormone

One of the problems and probable reasons that this hormone’s anabolic capabilities is overlooked and isn’t well- publicized and or understood is that it is commonly referred to as the cuddling hormone. It is  more closely associated with women and its substantial release during birth and when they nurse. Women actually produce more oxytocin then men, doing so when they talk , lactate , kiss and or are mentally and physically aroused  sexually. Hence its tag as the touch hormone. While oxytocin’s action is dependent on its interaction with the brain, the female hormone estrogen amplifies and intensifies its action. Conversely, males produce oxytocin,  just not at the same level  or intensity as women. However, its anabolic capabilities have a definitive impact on the males anabolic communication system. Hence here its reference as a endocrine interactive hormone, meaning it augments actions of the entire anabolic hormonal system, as it is manufactured in the testes, the adrenals, the pituitary, the pineal gland, and the prostate gland.

Last Words

The key difference here between oxytocin and other hormones ( testosterone, thyroid, and steroids, etc) is the fact the minute you start flooding the system with exogenous ( outside sources) of these hormones the body begins to shut down or turn off your natural production of them. However, the more oxytocin the body manufactures and stimulates, the functional capability of the entire hormonal system is heightened. Simply put, the hormone oxytocin regulates and plays a key role maintaining the bio-chemical  anabolic  hormone anomalies that occur throughout the body, versus one particular area of the body. This capability is only unique to the hormone oxytocin. Furthermore, oxytocin is cortisol’s (the muscle wasting hormone) worst nightmare, inhibiting its production.  The other unique aspect here is centered on you and some basic human instincts and not on  your intake of  protein and or a supplement. You and your actions will  literally decide how well this anabolic hormone will work for you!                                                   

About the Author

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