Love Hormone Treats Diabetes

Is love a diabetes treatment? Studies are finding that oxytocin, the “love hormone” or “bonding hormone,” improves health in diabetes. More love equals lower glucose levels. What do these findings mean for people with diabetes?


Oxytocin is one of the oldest hormones in the world. The oxytocin gene first evolved around 500 million years ago. Virtually all vertebrates have it in some form. We can’t live without it, but what does it do?

Shortly after its discovery, oxytocin was found to stimulate the release of milk in nursing mothers. If your body gets a surge of oxytocin when you touch or see someone, you will love that person. You will give them things you would normally keep for yourself, like turning your limited supply of food into mother’s milk and feeding it to them.

Oxytocin also promotes trust. Without it, there would be no society, because people wouldn’t trust each other enough to cooperate. Oxytocin also calms fears and can reduce anxiety. People feel happier and safer when they have some in their blood. On the physical level, it seems to help wound healing and may reduce symptoms of autism.

Oxytocin is a very complicated protein, made up of nine separate amino acids. Its chemical formula is C43H66N12O12S2. That is a big molecule! There’s a picture of it here.

(One wonders how such a thing evolved. It’s hard to imagine it could have happened at random.)

What about diabetes?
Recently, scientists have been looking at oxytocin’s effect on health. They are finding strong connections with diabetes and with weight. A study by Chinese and American scientists found that oxytocin reversed insulin resistance and improved glucose tolerance in obese mice. Weight loss followed, but by then the mice’s insulin function was already much improved.

They also studied a group of obese people without diabetes. They found that good cholesterol went up and bad cholesterol, weight, and after-meal blood glucose levels all went down with oxytocin.

The digestive system breaks oxytocin down, so it cannot be taken by mouth. In studies, people breathe oxytocin spray from a nasal inhaler.

Oxytocin analogs (synthetics) can be injected and last much longer than natural oxytocin. The best known is Pitocin, given in childbirth to stimulate labor. Some of these analogs are being studied for diabetes treatment.

A German study published in the journal Diabetes found that after inhaling oxytocin, male subjects had lower levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. They ate less and had lower post-meal sugar levels. This study was based on previous studies in rats that found the same thing.

Heart benefits
You probably know that diabetes damages blood vessels. Our bodies can repair them, but they need active, healthy progenitor cells (similar to stem cells) to make new vessels. A Korean study found that oxytocin heals stem cells that become new vessels. The findings were published in BMC Cell Biology in 2013.

A study by researchers from Brazil and Canada found that oxytocin lowers blood pressure, opens (dilates) blood vessels, and reduces the harmful effects of inflammation and oxidation.

How to get more oxytocin
You can’t take oxytocin in pills. Perhaps it will be available in nasal inhalers or injections at some point, but right now we have to make our own. And the main source for it is other people.

Dr. Paul J. Zak, who wrote the book on oxytocin called The Moral Molecule, says touch is the most important source for oxytocin. This could be a hug or a warm handshake. Try getting a massage. Or giving one. Sex is an even better source, and orgasm may be the best source of all.

It’s not all about touch, though. Dr. Zak told Prevention magazine that watching a movie with someone, especially an emotionally powerful movie, will build oxytocin. Walking with others is an oxytocin-building form of exercise.

When you act in a trusting way towards another person, that person’s oxytocin level will go up. When people trust you, your oxytocin rises. Maybe honesty is the best health policy.

Bottom line is that we don’t know yet how great the health benefits of oxytocin will be. Perhaps someday it will be a drug or a supplement. But getting more love, more touch, and more trust will give you some of the benefits now, and the side effects are all good. Maybe love will turn out to be your best medicine.

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  • June

    Maybe if we could drop oxytocin in a gas instead of bombs we could save a lot of money.

  • Beth

    Another great way to stimulate oxytocin release is to sing in a group. This helps with both endoprphins and oxytocin.

    I sing in a choir myself. Thursday evening rehearsals for 1 1/2 hours, plus singing for Sunday services are my weekly “fix”. This is an important part of keeping my life in balance. And even though I don’t particularly LIKE everyone in my choir, I truly LOVE all these people, because it is together that we can make all this wonderful music, which makes us all feel so good. (but I guess that’s just the oxytocin speaking… LOL)

    But if sacred music is not what you want, there are plenty of other ways to sing, and the big secret is you don’t have to be a good singer if you can stand next to a good singer.

  • Lorraine Starsky RN

    Thanks,David, for a very interesting and thought provoking article. As a high strung, type A personality, I was always struck by the tremendous sense of well-being and mellowness I had during the periods when I nursed my three children. Other people commented on my personality transformation. I always responded that if they could figure out how to turn oxycontin into a drug, I would be the first in line for it. I am gratified to learn that it is finally being seriously studied. My hunch is that favorite activites such as music and creating art promote oxycontin, as well as endorphins.

    • Larry

      I think you mean oxytocin and not oxycontin!

    • Larry


      Do you mean oxytocin?

    • Larry


      Or oxytocin?????

  • Larry

    Personally (just IMO), I think that I’d want my Oxytocin fix more frequently (and more intimately!) than a weekly choir singing “fix” (LOL)

    Oxytocin is secreted due to very specific stimulus and was developed through evolution as a bonding and “cuddle” hormone which, as it turns out also has numerous significant health and even fitness benefits (Google Oxytocin Benefits and wade through to the ones that indicate human and animal testing and not just anecdotal comments… though many of those are interesting).

    Some “overview” examples:

    Also, the process of “some” benefits (as much research is recent) but especially how the oxytocin secretion process works, there are some very good books (like “The Moral Molecule” cited in article) that cover oxytocin. These are, as best that I could determine, in order of publication date and ones I have personally read.

    “The Oxytocin Factor”

    “The Chemistry of Connection”

    “The Moral Molecule”

    “The Hormone of Closeness”

    Please… completely disregard (supposed) relationship guru John Gray’s book “Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance – The Key to Life, Love, and Energy”. Mr. Gray is clearly neither a relationship guru or a hormonal expert. The vast majority of his cited “facts” on oxytocin are clearly wrong (often the opposite of claim he lists in the book)!

  • Cheese Louis

    So in other words, love really does conquer all. :’D