Oxytocin, popularly known as love hormone can help treat anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder commonly found among teenagers, researchers reveal.
These findings are based on two studies from the UK and Korea that involved 64 people, including 31 affected with anorexia nervosa. Researchers found that a single dose of oxytocin, delivered via nasal spray, was highly effective in helping patients overcome their obsession about food and body shapes.
During the first study, participants were shown images related to different types of food and body shapes, both negative (high calorie foods, large body shape) and positive (low calorie, thin body shape). Professor Janet Treasure from King's College London and colleagues measured the time each participant spent on each image and how fast they identified it. Later, the participants received a single dose of either oxytocin or placebo nasal spray and repeated the test.
The study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology reported a considerable reduction in "attentional bias" or "focus" related to the disorder, after the hormone treatment. Patients with anorexia concentrated less on the negative images after taking oxytocin.
The second study involved a similar test, but this time researchers concentrated more on the participants' reactions to different types of facial expressions including disgust, happiness or anger. Results, reported in the journal PLOS ONE showed a reduction in participants' tendency to focus on negative emotions like disgust and anger.
"Our research shows that oxytocin reduces patients' unconscious tendencies to focus on food, body shape, and negative emotions such as disgust," lead author of the two studies, Prof Youl-Ri Kim, from Inje University in Seoul, South Korea, said in a news release. "There is currently a lack of effective pharmacological treatments for anorexia. 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."
Anorexia nervosa is a mental disorder that leads to an obsession with weight loss and abnormal eating habits. People with anorexia self-impose extreme food restriction, engage in extreme work outs and tend to remain underweight.
The eating disorder can lead to a wide range of health problems including bone loss, heart and kidney problems, anaemia, constipation, nausea, irregularities in menstrual cycle, decline in testosterone levels, lowered potassium, sodium and chloride levels and even death, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic in the US.