Oxytocin the Love Hormone May Be Treatment for Anorexia


Oxytocin is the “love hormone” providing groundbreaking evidence in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.  Oxytocin is the hormone spontaneously discharged during acts of bonding, sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth.  This specific hormone may be the key factor in assisting with multiple psychiatric disorders.

Whether referred to as the “cuddle chemical,” “bonding hormone,” or “love hormone,” oxytocin has shown promising results in the treatment of multiple psychiatric disorders.  Psychiatric disorders such as autism and anorexia nervosa are among those exhibiting promising results.  According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) autism effects 1 in 88 children.  The diagnosis is more common in young boys than girls with estimates of 1 out of 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls.  Autism is a body of perplexing disorders that affect brain function and development. Impaired functions range in elements such as social interaction, verbal communication, non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

Several studies have been performed furnishing oxytocin in the form of an inhalant.  The National Academy of Sciences presented findings of a small study conducted on 17 children with high-functioning autism. The National Academy of Sciences found that when oxytocin is taken in through the nasal cavity as an inhalant, sectors of the brain involving social interaction demonstrate heightened activity. These remarkable findings exhibit that regions in the brain are not definitively damaged.  The findings introduce the precursor that the “love hormone” oxytocin can assist in treatment of anorexia.

Social difficulties can take formation in individuals possessing anorexia nervosa as well. Anorexia has not been connected to genetics and plagues one in 150 teenage girls in the UK.  The disease, when not addressed or treated properly, can cause further mental health issues that can ultimately result in death. Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by inordinate behaviors pertaining to food restriction. There is a refusal of any type of food intake due to a constant fear of weight gain which leads to irrational distorted views of self-perception. These views stem into everyday life and stifle the ability to function properly. The simple task of examining a photo of a highly caloric meal may be immensely difficult.

A study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology tested oxytocin’s specific effects on the anorexia.  31 patients diagnosed with anorexia and 33 patients considered to be healthy, were dispersed the hormone by route of nasal spray or given a placebo.  The partakers in the study then observed an array of images correlating to food (low and high in calories), body shape (fat and thin), and weight (scales). As the photos flashed across a screen, the researchers inspected how rapidly the patients were able to identify the images. Participants with a tendency to focus on negative images would identify those images at a quicker pace. Oxytocin and the placebo were both instituted before and after the test was given.

The study found that patients given oxytocin decreased the amount of time they spent focusing on food and fat body parts.  Anorexic patients that exhibited great communication problems presented exemplary effects when under the influence of oxytocin. In addition to these particular results, a second test was executed on the same participants.  A second study known as the PLOS ONE, followed the same suit only this time around, it was detecting reactions to the facial expressions, anger, disgust, and happiness.  The participants that received oxytocin gave the disgust face less focus.  When dealing with the angry faces there was cautious awareness but a less likelihood to display avoidance.

Professor Janet Treasure, from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, was the senior author on both studies and Professor Youl-Ri Kim, from Inje University in Seoul, South Korea was the lead author on both studies.  Treasure has expressed that anorexic patients see a realm of social difficulties in teenage years before anorexia takes hold.  The key to unlocking the cure for anorexia is held within this social domain. The social complications can result in isolation. A more direct comprehension of inception and treatment will assist in healing these complications. Oxytocin may be able to provide medical treatment for the underlying issues surrounding anorexia as well as anorexia itself.  Anorexia, the deadliest psychiatric disorder in the world, may have found treatment with the “love hormone,” oxytocin.

By Ebony Waller


Belfast Telegraph
New York Times
Science 2.0

2 Responses to "Oxytocin the Love Hormone May Be Treatment for Anorexia"

  1. Ashlyn Linwood   March 18, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    Interesting and well-written article, but “anorexia not connected to genetics” is a curious phrase – it’s generally considered 50-80% heritable. A typo perhaps?

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