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Can the ‘Love Hormone’ Help Treat Anorexia?
In a society obsessed with physical appearance, it’s no surprise that many men and women go to great lengths to strive for perfection. While it’s normal to want change your appearance, it becomes a growing concern when healthy habits shift to an unhealthy obsession.
Eating disorders are among the most frustrating and difficult psychological conditions to treat. Though psychotherapy and counseling programs are widely available, doctors have been unable to come up with a successful pharmacological treatment to effectively supplement counseling programs. However, new research published by British and Korean scientists shows groundbreaking evidence that oxytocin, a hormone connected to positive feelings, could help treat the negative emotions of individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa.
“Also known as the ‘love hormone,’ oxytocin acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and is spontaneously released during acts of human bonding, sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth.”
Anorexia affects one in 200 women in the United States, and has the highest death rate of any psychiatric disorder. In addition to causing negative associations with body image and severe fixations with food, patients suffering from anorexia often have a range of social difficulties, including anxiety and hypersensitivity to negative emotions.
Also known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and is spontaneously released during acts of human bonding, sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth. As a synthesized product, it has been tested as a treatment for many psychiatric disorders.
In one of the studies, which involved both anorexic individuals and a control group, each subject was given either a dose of oxytocin or a placebo and then shown a series of photos of high-calorie foods and people with a range of body types. The researchers found that the individuals who received the oxytocin spent less time fixating on images of fattening foods and large body shapes.
More definitive research is necessary to understand the role of oxytocin in patients with eating disorders. Of course, there is no such thing as a “magic cure” for a disorder as complex as anorexia; however, these studies give hope that new, effective treatments will be designed in the near future.