Anorexia Patients May Find Benefits From Oxytocin
March 14, 2014

Love Hormone Could Benefit Anorexic Patients

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

According to new research published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, oxytocin could provide a new treatment for anorexia nervosa.

Researchers from Britain and South Korea found that oxytocin, or the “love hormone,” alters anorexic patients’ tendencies to fixate on images of high calorie foods, and larger body shape.

"Patients with anorexia have a range of social difficulties which often start in their early teenage years, before the onset of the illness,” Professor Janet Treasure from King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry and senior author of the study, said in a statement. “These social problems, which can result in isolation, may be important in understanding both the onset and maintenance of anorexia. By using oxytocin as a potential treatment for anorexia, we are focusing on some of these underlying problems we see in patients."

The love hormone is released naturally during bonding, which can include sex, childbirth and breastfeeding. Oxytocin has been tested as a treatment for psychiatric disorders and has been shown to have benefits in lowering social anxiety in people with autism.

Researchers asked participants to take a dose of oxytocin delivered via a nasal spray. Some of the participants received the drug, while others received only a placebo.

After taking the drug, the study participants were asked to look at a sequence of images relating to food, including high calorie and low calorie food. They were also shown images of body shape and weight. Once the images flashed on the screen, the scientists measured how quickly participants identified the images. They said that if the study participant had a tendency to focus on negative images, they would identify them more rapidly than if they saw them as a positive thing.

The study showed that patients with anorexia reduced their focus on images of food and fat body parts after taking the love hormone. The team said the effect of the drug was particularly strong in patients with anorexia who had greater communication problems.

A second study involved looking at the participants reactions to facial expressions, such as anger, disgust, or happiness. This experiment revealed that patients with anorexia were less likely to focus on the disgusted faces after taking a dose of oxytocin. They also found that the participants were less likely to avoid looking at angry faces.

"Our research shows that oxytocin reduces patients' unconscious tendencies to focus on food, body shape, and negative emotions such as disgust. There is currently a lack of effective pharmacological treatments for anorexia,” Prof Youl-Ri Kim, from Inje University in Seoul, South Korea and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Our research adds important evidence to the increasing literature on oxytocin treatments for mental illnesses, and hints at the advent of a novel, ground-breaking treatment option for patients with anorexia."