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Oxytocin: Cognitive Function & Stress

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:
Medically reviewed by
Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

Have you heard of oxytocin? 

If you have, chances are that you know all about its role in mood and emotional bonding.

Some people call it the love hormone because it plays a role in trust, female-to-male sexual interest, feelings of security, empathy, and romantic attachment. 

But, did you know that some researchers now believe it helps to boost your cognitive function too?

You see, evolution did not improve upon our amazing brains so that we could solve for x in a complicated algebra problem.

Our brains evolved from the “cavemen” so that we could thrive in the complex social civilizations that we were destined to build. 

The evolution of society required the ability to communicate, socialize, create relationships, and make decisions based on social cues. These abilities are influenced by your levels and sensitivity to oxytocin.

Some studies on oxytocin suggest that it plays a role in synaptic plasticity, IQ, cognitive flexibility, learning, and memory as well as social cognition. 

Higher oxytocin results in better response to social stress and improved social intelligence. Navigating social situations uses a lot of cognitive skills. 

For example, it takes brainpower to navigate, communicate with, and lead the full-time team of 25+ employees at SelfHacked. I need to use logic, reasoning, problem-solving, and good processing speed to lead my team effectively. 

My ability to do this is influenced by the number of oxytocin receptors in my brain. Depending on the variation of the OXTR gene you have, you may have more or fewer oxytocin receptors.

In this blog, you can learn the impact that certain SNPs of OXTR may have on cognitive function. Now it’s important to remember that far more studies are needed on genetic variants before firm conclusions can be drawn on their role in complex phenomena like cognition. But let’s discuss one SNP because of how interesting the findings of this one study were. The researchers studied SNP rs53576 and its possible role in cognition.  

Once again, it must be stated that this study was very small and needs to be replicated in much larger studies before anything definitive can be drawn from it. The researchers found that this SNP was associated with a difference of up to 8.5% in overall intellectual performance depending on what genotype you are [1]. That is a really large difference for one genetic variant. It will be very interesting to see if this difference remains once this is followed up in much larger studies. 

My SNP variation is the one that was found to be associated with increased cognitive function, so if these early findings are replicated and found to be conclusive, I don’t have to worry too much about oxytocin-related cognitive issues unless my oxytocin is low.

However, even if these findings hold in future studies and you carry the genotype that puts you at risk for lower cognitive function, don’t worry! Remember that cognition is a highly complex phenomenon and there are lifestyle changes you can make that have been shown to improve cognitive performance regardless of the genetic variants we are born with. Check out the blog to learn more. 

Your OXTR gene can also influence your overall sensitivity to stress and mood. 

Oxytocin helps to regulate your stress, anxiety, and ability to maintain a positive mood.

Early preliminary research has found that the ‘A’ allele of the rs2254298 SNP is associated with greater sensitivity to stress and increased rates for mood disorders. 

But even if those findings are found to be correct, remember that boosting oxytocin can be a great way to reduce stress levels regardless of which allele we are born with. 

Our new blog posts on SelfDecode can give you more information on how the tell you exactly how the OXTR gene might affect the brain, mood, and what strategies exist to boost cognition. 

You can read them here:

Fortunately, there are ways to improve the function of your OXTR gene depending on what genotype you are.

If you have uploaded your DNA file to SelfDecode, you’ll be able to access your personalized recommendations on the blog to improve your cognitive function based on your OXTR gene.

If you haven’t uploaded your DNA file to SelfDecode, you won’t be able to access your personalized recommendations, but you can still learn all about how OXTR and oxytocin affect your cognitive function and social intelligence.

For $119, you can get your DNA tested and get one year of access to SelfDecode’s DNA Wellness Reports and Personalized Genetics Blog.

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About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

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