Anorexia: hormone oxytocin as the agent of choice



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"Cuddle hormone" oxytocin against anorexia
15.03.2014

British and Korean researchers have found that administration of the hormone oxytocin in anorexia patients can reduce an unhealthy fixation on food and the figure. The messenger substance, also known as "cuddle hormone", could offer a new treatment for anorexia in the future.

Anorexia is one of the most common eating disorders In two studies, British and South Korean researchers found that administration of the hormone oxytocin changes the perception of food, body shape and face in patients with anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is one of the most commonly diagnosed eating disorders. Although it is less common among female teenagers than bulimia, it often shows a significantly less favorable course with severe physical complications. Anorexia is one of the mental illnesses that can also lead to death, on the one hand due to complications caused by the small amount of food and on the other hand through suicide. Sufferers have problems with eating and body shape, they become underweight. But social difficulties such as anxiety and sensitivity to negative emotions also burden the anorexic.

Anorexics with Social Problems “Patients with anorexia have a number of social problems that often occur in the early teen years before the disease manifests itself. These social problems that lead to isolation could be important for understanding about the onset and maintenance of anorexia. By giving oxytocin as a potential treatment for anorexia, we are focusing on some of these underlying problems, ”said study author Janet Treasure from King’s College London. Anorexic people who often have problems letting others in and forming intense bonds could possibly be helped with the messenger substance oxytocin, also known as the "cuddle hormone". This is the conclusion of two studies on the topic, which have recently appeared in the specialist journal "PLOS ONE" and are currently in "Psychoneuroendocrinology". The London and Seoul researchers compared a group of 31 anorexia patients with 33 subjects who had no eating disorder. Some of the subjects received an oxytocin nasal spray and others received a placebo.

Groundbreaking Treatment The hormone caused anorexic participants to pay less attention to photos of high-calorie food and obese bodies. A second test showed that sensitivity to angry or disgusted faces also decreased. Co-author Youl-Ri Kim from Inje University in Seoul said: “Our research shows that oxytocin reduces patient's subconscious tendencies to focus on eating, body shape, and negative emotions such as disgust. There is currently a lack of effective pharmacological treatments for anorexia nervosa. Our research adds important pointers to the growing literature on oxytocin treatments for mental illness and indicates the beginning of a new, groundbreaking treatment for anorexia patients. ”

Research at an early stage Researcher Janet Treasure said: "Our research is still at an early stage with only a few test subjects." It is nevertheless "extremely exciting" to imagine the potential of anorexia treatment with oxytocin. The hormone is naturally released during breastfeeding or during sex, for example. In previous studies, the binding messenger had already been shown to enhance the placebo effect in pain therapy, loyalty in men, and weight loss in non-anorexics. Oxytocin is also being researched as a potential therapeutic agent for other psychological disorders. Anorexia is estimated to affect just under one percent of girls, but more and more boys and men are also affected. The disease most often begins in teenage years. (ad)

Image: Claudia Hautumm / pixelio.de

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