Oxytocin Could be a Treatment for Anorexia

Treatment for Anorexia

Feelings of connection are drive by physiological responses in the body. Oxytocin is considered the ‘bonding hormone’ because it creates feelings of attraction and affection. A natural neuropeptide produced in the hypothalamus, it is naturally released during labor, breastfeeding, romantic connections and maternal feelings of bonding to a newborn infant. The receptor gene is also associated with trust, empathy and stress reduction. Find out why people are discussing how Oxytocin can provide treatment for individuals struggling with anorexia.

 

Anorexia

Researchers are working to determine whether oxytocin can aid in psychological disorders such as schizophrenia, autism or depression. Scientists have linked social and emotional developmental problems to disruptions in the oxytocin system and the receptor gene. Scientists are working to determine whether the hormone can be beneficial in the treatment of eating disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists anorexia nervosa as an eating disorder characterized by ‘distorted body image and excessive dieting that leads to severe weight loss with a pathological fear of becoming overweight.’ People with anorexia perceive the body as being overweight and other mental disturbances may occur in conjunction with it including:

  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

 

Role of Oxytocin

Individuals with anorexia have been found to have lower than normal oxytocin levels with malfunctioning receptors in the brain, both of which can cause impaired social functioning. Studies have been done to demonstrate how oxytocin might provide a treatment option for anorexia nervosa. In one study, anorexic individuals and control study participants were instructed to look at healthy food, junk food, weight scales, thin and overweight people following receipt of intranasal oxytocin. A visual probe recorded how quickly individuals identified and processed images. Individuals with anorexia demonstrated significantly reduced attention to eating-related stimuli and to negative body-shape stimuli following receipt of intranasal oxytocin.

 

Another study found anorexic individuals and control individuals were recorded for reactions to pictures of angry and disgusted-looking faces. Research indicated oxytocin reduced anorexic individual’s unconscious focus on food, body shape and negative emotions.  

Oxytocin is not a panacea for individuals who struggle with anorexia. The hope is with continued research and study of the effects of oxytocin, individuals may find support and help from receipt of this naturally occurring drug within the body. Individuals with anorexia struggle with body image and disordered thinking when it comes to food. Even as the presence of  oxytocin may be absent in the brains of individuals with anorexia, it is possible to help people find additional sources of support including therapy that includes oxytocin in addition to other therapeutic interventions to support recovery.