What I find incredible about oxytocin is that literally all of the information is spot on for me.  I’m a high oxytocin producer and I display all the tendencies that result when people are given oxytocin or have high oxytocin genes.

This post deals with the most significant oxytocin receptor genes that 23andme has data for (the new chip). Get your 23andme to see if you have this gene.

About Oxytocin

Oxytocin plays an important role in social behavior and wound healing.  (R)

Oxytocin is thought to decrease inflammation by decreasing certain cytokines.  Thus, the increased release of oxytocin following positive social interactions has the potential to improve wound healing. (R)

Oxytocin is important for female sexual interest in males.  In mice, a lack of oxytocin (receptor) in female mice resulted in a loss of social interest in male mice specifically during the sexually receptive phase of the estrous cycle. (R)

Oxytocin evokes feelings of contentment, reductions in anxiety, and feelings of calmness and security when in the company of a mate. (R)

Due to its similarity to vasopressin, it can reduce the excretion of urine and sodium slightly. (R)

Oxytocin, under certain circumstances, indirectly inhibits the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and, in those situations, may be considered an antagonist of vasopressin. (R)

Giving oxytocin to people increases trust and generosity. (R) It reduces the fear of social betrayal in humans.  (R)

Disclosure of emotional events is a sign of trust in humans. When recounting a negative event, humans who receive oxytocin (nasal) share more emotional details and stories with more emotional significance. (R)

Even after experiencing social alienation, humans who received oxytocin were still more trustful.  (R)

Oxytocin can efficiently inhibit fear responses by inhibiting activation of the amygdala. (R)

Some researchers have argued oxytocin has a general enhancing effect on all social emotions since oxytocin (nasal) also increases envy and Schadenfreude (joy at downfall). (R)

Oxytocin only increases trust when there is no reason to be distrustful.  When there is a reason to be distrustful, such as experiencing betrayal, oxytocin functions differently.  (R)

Oxytocin increases romantic attraction and attachment in males as well and helps promote fidelity within monogamous relationships.  (R)

Oxytocin increases generosity in the Ultimatum Game by 80%.(R) This is a game where someone receives money and proposes how to divide the sum between himself and another player.  The second player chooses to either accept or reject this proposal. If the second player accepts, the money is split according to the proposal. If the second player rejects, neither player receives any money.

Oxytocin supplementation increases empathy in healthy males. (R)

Supplemental oxytocin can decrease memory of bad experiences and increase memory for social information. (R)

For example, males given oxytocin show improved memory for human faces, in particular, happy faces.  They also show improved recognition for positive social cuesover threatening social cues and improved recognition of fear. (R)

According to some studies in animals, oxytocin inhibits the development of tolerance to various addictive drugs (opiates, cocaine, alcohol), and reduces withdrawal symptoms. (R)

Oxytocin increased a fathers’ overall stress response when dealing with their infant and challenged with a stressor. (R)

Oxytocin and In-Group Favoritism

shutterstock_344191121

Oxytocin can also cause anxiety in some cases in humans. Oxytocin excites brain structures that cause anxiety to uncertainty (the BNST and activating CRH neurons). (R)

Therefore, when extended to the social domain, unfamiliar individuals whose behavior is inherently unpredictable will not result in empathy, and instead cause anxiety/dislike. (R)

Oxytocin may strengthen existing social bonds (for example, between relatives/friends), but it does not help create new bonds between strangers, implying that it is less of a ‘love’ or ‘moral’ molecule than a ‘us and them’ molecule. (R)

Indeed, oxytocin boosts anti-social behaviors towards unfamiliar individuals. (R)

Oxytocin can increase positive attitudes toward individuals with similar characteristics, who then become classified as “in-group” members, whereas individuals who are dissimilar become classified as “out-group” members. (R)

Oxytocin promotes ethnocentric behavior, incorporating the trust and empathy of in-groups with their suspicion and rejection of outsiders. (R)

Oxytocin was shown to promote dishonesty when the outcome of lying benefited the group to which an individual belonged (the in-group). (R)

When given oxytocin, individuals alter their subjective preferences in order to align with in-group ideas over out-group ideals. (R)

The in-group bias is evident in smaller groups; however, it can also be extended to groups as large as one’s entire country leading toward a tendency of strong national zeal. A study done in the Netherlands showed that oxytocin increased the in-group favoritism of their nation while decreasing acceptance of members of other ethnicities and foreigners.(R)

 It has thus been hypothesized that this hormone may be a factor in xenophobic tendencies. (R

Further, oxytocin was correlated with participant desire to protect vulnerable in-group members. (R) 

Oxytocin and Appetite

shutterstock_284988062

Recent evidence has suggested that oxytocin neurons in the hypothalamus may play a key role in suppressing appetite under normal conditions and that other hypothalamic neurons may trigger eating via inhibition of these oxytocin neurons. (R)

This population of oxytocin neurons is absent in Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder that leads to uncontrollable feeding and obesity. (R)

My Subjective Assessment

Subjectively, when I read about the oxytocin genes before checking what genes I had, I was pretty sure I was a high producer.

Subjectively, I’m:

  • Social (even though I’m introverted and I like to spend a lot of time alone)
  • Emotional…As the research suggests, my emotional system is ramped up in general and that can include both positive and negative emotions.  It hits me harder when I feel socially rejected, but being an observer helps me step back.
  • Empathetic – but only when I don’t feel like I’m being taken advantage of.
  • Giving
  • Trusting, but only where there is no reason not to be…if I deal with someone who I identify as selfish I am on my guard
  • Optimistic
  • Positive in my demeanor
  • Mellow
  • Monogamous
  • Affectionate
  • Good at reading emotional states of others
  • Less predisposed to major depression
  • Have a high verbal IQ
  • Feel less lonely (even though I enjoy giving and receiving affection)
  • Have almost a photographic memory for faces
  • Less likely to get addicted to substances
  • Share more emotional details and stories with more emotional significance

In some ways, I’m cool and rational, so there’re other genes at play.  I’m good at shelving my emotions and thinking rationally, but my emotions can elevate pretty high sometimes.

See video on empathy vs sympathy.

Should You Increase Oxytocin?

If you do have the gene (rs53576 GG), then you can actually benefit even more from oxytocin (R), and this probably has something to do with you having more receptors or them being more sensitive to it.  Science isn’t exactly sure about the precise differences.

Specifically, preference for infant faces increased following oxytocin only in GG, whereas preference for infant faces decreased in A carriers following oxytocin. (R)

This suggests that processing the oxytocin in a certain way is what matters more.  However, oxytocin is good to try out whether you have the gene or not.

People with Autism, Schizophrenia, and Borderline Personality Disorder do better with Oxytocin, to name a few examples.

How to Increase Oxytocin Naturally

  • Having sex/sexual stimulation (R)
  • Having positive social encounters (R)
  • Soothing music (R)
  • Massage (R)
  • Eating (R)
  • Jasmine (R)
  • Lavender builds trust and might increase oxytocin (R)
  • Warm temperature (R)
  • Touch (R)
  • Yoga (R, R)
  • Exercise (R)
  • Kindness meditation (likely) (R)
  • Petting session (humans) (R)
  • L Reuteri (R)
  • High dose vitamin C (R)
  • Estrogen (R)
  • Fenugreek (R)
  • Vagus stimulation
  • Hypoglycemia (R)
  • MDMA (ecstasy) (R)
  • Falling in love (R)
  • Nursing (R)
  • Activating your 5HT1A receptors, 5HT2A receptors (R) and 5HT2C receptors

I’ve experimented with oxytocin both in the spray and sublingual forms.

I did a mega-dosing experiment with the lozenge by taking 10-15 (10-15X the dosage), with no ill effect.  The lozenges can reach the hypothalamus and brain stem that isn’t protected by the brain barrier, but it can’t enter the brain because oxytocin can’t cross the brain barrier.  I notice small effects, but nothing significant.

The spray can cross the brain barrier, however, and I certainly notice a relaxing cognitive effect.  The spray is used in science studies.

I’m more emotional when I take it and as you see above I have many genes for processing it as well.

Being more emotional isn’t necessarily a good thing.  It’s kind of like you have to surf a bigger wave and if you can’t balance yourself, you will fall down.

Being more emotional and also an observer of your reality has a nice mix to it.  Being an observer can make you less compassionate, but the oxytocin can help the balance.

The main danger is retaining too much water and causing hyponatremia, but even my megadosing experiment caused no ill effects.  I did feel like I retained water during the experiment, but a regular dose of desmopressin was 3X more powerful than even my mega-dosing experiment (I don’t recommend desmopressin to anyone).

Oxytocin requires Magnesium and cholesterol to function, so make sure you’re getting enough of those. (R)

What Are Your Genes for Oxytocin?

It would be interesting for people to list their genes and measure themselves subjectively as to how empathetic they are.

I recommend using the SelfDecode app.

The Most Significant Oxytocin Gene: rs53576

This is the main and most significant oxytocin receptor gene.   But there are a bunch of others that are significant as well.  I speak about this one more in depth if you scroll below because the most research has been done on it.

This gene essentially makes you more sensitive to oxytocin.

GG is the social version and about 37% of the global population has this.  This makes you more optimistic and empathetic and allows you to handle stress well.

The GG version promotes the efficient functioning of the oxytocin system and enhances the effects of oxytocin supplementation. (R)

The gene frequency varies by race:  ~61% of Africans have it (in Africa), ~41% of Europeans (~30% of Finns) and ~10% of Asians. (R)

The Benefits of rs53576

Since this is the most important gene, I focus on this.

  • GG have a more positive ‘effect’ or disposition. (R) AA and AG individuals were judged to be less pro-social and displayed fewer nonverbal cues — head nods and smiles — compared to GG people.  The study suggested that the association between and prosociality was stronger for men, but also true for women. (R)
  • GG are more optimistic.
  • GG are more empathetic.
  • GG handle stress better.
  • GG are better at accurately reading the emotions of others by observing their faces compared to AA or AG.
  • GG are less likely to startle when blasted by a loud noise, or to become stressed at the prospect of such a noise.
  • GG were mellower and more attuned to other people than were the AA or AG.
  • GG have a higher Verbal IQ. (R)
  • GG feel less lonely.
  • GG was less likely to seek support from their peers.
  • GG employ more sensitive parenting techniques.
  • GG have lower rates of autism.
  • GG have less difficulty hearing and understanding in noisy environments.
  • In response to an interview, GG or AG had significantly lower cortisol responses to stress when they had social support.  There were no differences in cortisol levels in subjects with the A;A genotype receiving or not receiving social support.  The A;A genotype tended to have higher levels of cortisol throughout the session than G carriers (no differences between the genotypes were observed at baseline).
  • GG have more gray matter volume in the hypothalamus and greater hypothalamus volume and more activation in the amygdala.
  • GG are less predisposed to major depression. (R)

The Negatives of rs53576

GG take social rejection worse than others.   GG had higher blood pressure and cortisol levels following rejection, effects not apparent among A carriers.  (R)

GG were less empathetic to pain experienced by racial ‘out group’ vs racial ‘in group’ members (Asians vs Whites). However, AA experienced more pleasure from pain to racial out-groups. (R)

So GG cares less about other races or who we view as ‘other’ (including competitions), but AA experiences more schadenfreude, which is pleasure at out-group pain or downfall. (R)

Other Oxytocin Genes

rs1042778 

People with the G allele had higher oxytocin levels than T carriers (T=.37) (R).  

GG or GT are the social versions.  In a game that tested how generous people are,  TT gave on average 18.3 shekels to the ‘other’, while GG or GT gave on average 25 shekels to the other. (R) About 14% of the global population has TT.

In romantic relationships,  the TT version was associated with less empathic concern to their partner’s distress, displayed lower social reciprocity in a support-giving interaction, and persisted less in attending to their partner’s communication and maintaining focus on providing support. (R)  

rs237887

G is social allele (R), but as you’ll see the effects are mixed for this.

AG and AA (both 18.1) had the highest empathy in “perspective taking” (tendency of placing yourself in the position of others) compared to GG (16.0) (R)

GG had the highest level of “personal distress” empathy (16.8) (subjective feelings when observing the anguish and pain endured by others) compared to AA (15.3) and AG (14.4) (R)

GG had highest “Fantasy” empathy (18.5) (the extent to which people can immerse themselves in the conditions of the fictitious characters’ feelings and actions) compared to both AA and AG (15.1).  Fantasy empathy probably is a factor in how much you like novels. (R)

About 66% of the global population will have either GG or AG and about 34% of the global population has the AA version (less social).

journal.pone.0005535.g004 (1)(R)

rs13316193

CC or CT has been associated with empathy, whereas TT  (the risky version) has been linked to decreased expression of oxytocin receptors in the brain, depressive mood and greater risk for Autism (R).

~48% of the population will have CT,  ~36% will have TT and 16% will have CC (C=0.40)…

In romantic relationships,  the TT version was associated with less empathic concern to their partner’s distress, displayed lower social reciprocity in a support-giving interaction, and persisted less in attending to their partner’s communication and maintaining focus on providing support. (R)  This was based on observed behavior rather than self-reports. This study was looking at a group of genes in total, so it’s best not to read into it too much.  

But based on a different study, total empathy wasn’t really different in most situations between groups. However, CT has the most empathy with females. (R)

rs2268491

CT had the highest level of empathy (IRI=68.7), followed by TT (65.8) and then CC (60.7) (R)

The same was true for “cognitive empathy”, which is simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. 59% of the population has CT, 32% have TT and 9% have CC. (R)

rs2254298

AG is the most empathetic version (IRI=70.8), while GG and AA were equal in total empathy (~65.4).  In cognitive empathy (putting yourself in someone else’s situation), AG (35.9) was the highest followed by GG (34.2) and AA (32.8). (R)

The A allele has been related to lower risk for autism, depression and separation anxiety and with amygdala volume increase in both White and Asian populations (R)…..

In romantic relationships,  the GG version was associated with less empathic concern to their partner’s distress, displayed lower social reciprocity in a support-giving interaction, and persisted less in attending to their partner’s communication and maintaining focus on providing support. (R)  This was based on observed behavior rather than self-reports.  This study was looking at a group of genes in total, so it’s best not to read into it too much.

About 64% of the global population has GG, which is the less social version and 36% have either AA or AG (A=0.20)…

rs4686302

For males, CC is the most empathetic, especially with emotional empathy…. and CT the least.  For females, CT and TT are the most empathetic.  49.5% of the population has CC, 27% has CT and 24% has TT. (R)

rs2268494

TT is the social version.  About 86% of the global population has TT…The A allele, which is not common(A=.07), was associated with risk for Autism, which suggests lower oxytocin or worse processing of it. (R)…

In romantic relationships,  the AA version was associated with less empathic concern to their partner’s distress, displayed lower social reciprocity in a support-giving interaction, and persisted less in attending to their partner’s communication and maintaining focus on providing support. (R)  This was based on observed behavior rather than self-reports.

rs237897

This gene is significant only in males with regard to empathy/kindness (dictator game and social value orientation). (R)

It doesn’t specify which alleles, but the minor allele is A (.36), which most often is the “risk” allele.  So AA would probably indicate less empathy is males, but I don’t know.

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24 COMMENTS

  • Janet

    Joe, I have noticed in several places on your site you call SNPs genes (do you have this gene, etc). Everyone has the oxytocin gene. I see the same mistake with people saying they have the MTHFR gene or similar misunderstandings. There are usually about 2000-5000 published SNPs on any given gene (1738 on the OXTR gene), and only a small number of those are pathogenic. Those are the ones we look for in the 23andMe and similar tests. I know you know that, but it would be nice to have the correct terminology to avoid confusion.

    1. Nattha Wannissorn, PhD

      We know the difference but we are trying to keep things simple for the lay readers.

  • Nathan

    Wow 3 of my genes for this group have autistic alleles and I’ve got a few bad oxytocin producing genes which explains my whole social life, especially growing up. It helps to know what boosts oxytocin but I would love to be able to change these alleles if I could.

  • Sophie Reason

    Jules,can you tell me more about this…am fascinated.

  • Samantha

    There is some literature that says rs53576 works by differential susceptibility. people with AA will function better in socially positive and supportive environments and worse in socially harmful environments. People with GG are relatively unaffected regardless of what environment they are in. Differential Susceptibility framework would imply that having
    AA or AG > GG in very socially positive and nurturing environments, while AA or AG < GG in socially harmful environments (childhood maltreatment, bullying, lots of adverse events).

    https://www.semel.ucla.edu/sites/all/files/SCole%20Oxytocin%20receptor%20gene%20variation….pdf

  • Ted Hu

    I’m Asian – Chinese Taiwanese 50/50. With some neanderthal thx to Mediterranean travelers that visited se Asian no doubt. Most Asians are pragmatic. I am over empathic as is my mom. I suspect rice enculturation (worth googling) and population density are at play. Adaptations to that effect that haven’t been necessary for others. Though goto nyc. You do wonder.

  • Ruji C. (@ruji_says)

    Thanks for this superbly informative post! I used it as a reference in writing this paper on genetic variations in the gray areas of the autism spectrum:

    Chapnik, R., & Depresso, D. (2015, December 10). The Halfsperger’s syndrome gene: A case study in the gray areas of the autism spectrum. Don Depresso: Comics about a depressed guy and charts by his manic alter ego. Retrieved from http://dondepresso.rujic.net/post/134969320440/halfspergers-syndrome-gene

  • Immajenn

    If you want some really excellent (and easy to accomplish) interpretation of 23andMe raw data results:

    Sterling App at MTHFRSUPPORT.com
    My Dr Recommends (who specializes in Neutrogenomics & Epigenetics) recommends Sterling App Varient Report at mthfrsupport.com for MTHFR & many other methylation, neurotransmitter, organic acids, mitochondrial, transulferation, phase 1 & 2 liver snp polymorphisms / mutations.
    It is pretty much snp ID, whether you have homozygos or heterozygous mutations and I think the rsID link out to dbSnp.
    You either need to be really well versed or review with a health care partitioner that is, or your brains will leak.
    It generates a 60 page Varient report. $30
    MTHFRSUPPORT.COM just did an 8 week live we binary master class on snps. I dingy know if they are going to sell the transcripts to the public (wouldn’t surprise me), but my Dr said there was some amazing info in the webinar & she learned a ton more. They have a sample report.

    Livewello.com
    I really like livewello.com. Get their varient report (which is not as awesome or extensive) for $20, which gives you access to creating your own varient report templates (or using ones that others in the community have made).
    I take a lot of the snps that I needed more info on from Sterling App and either found or created my own templates (for example one for a kidney disorder that I think I may have. It is my go to if I find a snp mentioned that I want to research further (like hemochromatosis, or PKU, or amino acid conversion) I think this is an essential tool, and it is really geared for peop l e that are trying to figure out health stuff.
    I think it is probably the easiest for the ‘lay person’ to understand because they really have some explanations & info that draw from snpDB, genecards, malcards, wiki gene & a bunch of other stuff. I use it a lot to research snps from MTHFR, to Oxytocin, to Parkinson, to BH4 deficiency, to some Mitochondrial Disorders & dis orders of inborn metabolism. You can populate it and have it pull info from any of the 600,000 snps that 23andme.com has in your raw data.
    If 23andMe map o ed the gene, you can find our info.
    You don’t need their paid ‘monthly subscription for curated reports’.
    They also have a very active online / social community forum. I have probably learned the most from livewello.com.
    you can create a free acount to poke around before comiting $20, but you don’t get access to their varient report templates.

    You can also find our create health tools for tracking your supplement program or labs. There is an app there that a Dr created that tracks your OAT or Organic Acid Tests.

    You can also run your 23andme raw data through Prometheous and get a lot of information that is similar to the health info that 23andMe.Com was providing before the FDA blocked them from doing so. I think it is $5-10 dollars. You can view a sample report. There is a stuff from you have (xyz greater chance of bowel cancer, alzheimers, parkinsons) to you are a super taster, or have a rare eye color. It is good, but I dont really use it since I discovered Sterling App and Livewello.com

    You can get a report from genetic genie too for $5, but is is like 5 pages, compared to the 60 on mthfrsupport.com.

    I have all, but for my purposes (I have a TON of health issues) I find that I am using the Sterlings App combined with livewello.com resources & custom templates & varient reports.

    I also run a lot of the stuff that I find on selfhacked through Livewello.com

    You have a FANTASTIC site John. I’d love to see you do a review on livewello.com & Sterlings App. I think you would really like them based on all the things you write, and it may be a really good reference / research tool for you.
    I have learned so much from reading your blog, and am glad you have started to cover more genetic stuff.

    Thanks for the hard work.

    I don’t post much (really sick), but I thought this info was worth sharing.
    -Imajenn

    PS, I don’t know if my post on the different ‘varient compilers / readers’ mentioned above is helpful.
    feel free to move it to a different post or two, or butcher it for a more intelligent rewrite, if you do desire.

  • Steve

    Is 23andme even worth it for mental health when it doesn’t test for MTHFR variants?

    https://customercare.23andme.com/hc/en-us/articles/202907420-Does-the-23andMe-service-include-analysis-of-the-MTHFR-gene-

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      They DO TEST FOR IT – they give you the raw data…but they don’t interpret it for you.

  • Dmitry

    Joseph, is L. Reuteri worth to try? In comparison with spray and lozenge.

  • dollartlover

    123me seems to be in a holding pattern pending governmental okays….any idea how long it will be before this is completed?

  • jules

    I’ve recommended it before but I’ll do it again– karezza (and the bonding behaviors in the pdf from reuniting.info– I’d link it but I’m at work and apparently it’s blocked for being “r rated” lol) are fantastic for boosting oxytocin levels. After my first successful attempt, all of those nagging feelings of loneliness in an apathetic universe evaporated. I was giggly and beaming for days and I had “Love Train” by The O’Jays on repeat. It was like falling in love all over again.

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Thx 🙂

  • Jean

    rs53576(A;G) intermediate level of empathy – OK
    rs1042778(G;T) GG or GT are the social versions –
    rs237887(A;G) AG and AA (both 18.1) had the highest empathy in “perspective taking” –
    rs13316193(C;T) CC/CT has been associated with empathy –
    rs2268491(C;C) CT had the highest level of empathy – ?
    rs2254298(G;G) AG is the most empathetic version – OK
    rs4686302(C;C) For males, CC is the most empathetic, especially with emotional empathy –
    rs2268494(T;T) TT is the social version –
    rs237897(A;G) unknown

    Quite high. This is probably why I am able to have girls as best friends as well (non-sexual, I see the individual). I also feel that it’s natural to help others or comfort and listen to someone who’s miserable. I really don’t do this for “good karma points”, because I don’t believe in karma. I just believe that life is all about helping other people and be able to offer help and/or comfort even when they don’t ask for it, because you can sense that they are having a hard time. Easing someone’s pain or discomfort feels great and makes my heart sing. However I have to do this selectively, because ultimately I have to help myself in order to help others.

    1. Jean

      For those who might get confused: I’m a male even if it sounds quite feminine. The name is after the famous Finnish composer “Jean Sibelius”.

  • Joanna

    I’m about 50/50 or less.

    I don’t think I really “feel” other people feelings unless I happen to feel the same way, but I try to logically understand how they feel and how to respond appropriately. I don’t have tolerance for stupid and ignorant people and I can’t “put myself into their shoes”. Its probably a bad thing but what can I do when I don’t give a shit? Luckily I don’t feel like that about a lot of people 😀

    However, I have a great imagination for characters books. I take very harshly to the smallest sign of social rejection from people whom I care about, but I don’t give half a shit to people I don’t 😛

    1. Santiago

      you should pursuit a political career. Great profile for that.

      1. Joanna

        Thats cool! I never really thought of it that way

  • Santiago

    amazing!

    I’m compassionate and quite an empathetic person, even if that’s not the way people treat/seems me. Glad to see genome backs this up. My numbers

    rs53576 AG
    rs1042778 GG
    rs237887 3 AG
    rs13316193 TT
    rs2268491 CT
    rs2254298 AG
    rs4686302 CC
    rs2268494 TT
    rs237897 AG

    Best

    1. dollartlover

      Where do you get the info on what these markers mean? 123andMe is only giving raw results now, so I don’t know how to interpret them…..

  • Lex Fur

    Interessting post. I’ll take in mind to boost my cholesterol & Mg. when I need to be emotional 😛

  • Joanna

    Only 10% for asians huh. Asians were high up there for warrior gene too. I wonder why that is.

    1. Lex Fur

      Maybe because their genes are coming from the homo sapiens while other folks have more roots from neanderthals.

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