Oxytocin May Remedy Eating Disorders

Eating disordersEating disorders have caused lots of anxiety and even depression to many people. Eating disorders are characterized by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and behavior. Most people who are too keen on their weight and shape do make unhealthy eating choices which in the long run will pose a health threat to them. Here are examples of eating disorders that you should be aware of;

Anorexia nervosa – this is characterized by an individual’s endless pursuit to keep his or her weight as low as possible. Most people will either starve themselves or exercise too much to achieve this goal.

Bulimia – when someone tries to control their weight by binge eating and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives (medication to help empty their bowels)

Binge eating – Binge eating is characterized by a feeling of compulsion to overeat.

Helping people who suffer from eating disorders has never been easy as it does not only involve dealing with the symptoms but requires a total lifestyle change. It takes lots of professional counseling sessions to help a person through the journey of self-awareness and acceptance that is crucial in the healing of anybody suffering from eating disorders. However there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel to those struggling with eating disorder after scientists have discovered that a hormone known as oxytocin can be helpful in treatment of eating disorders, specifically Anorexia nervosa.

A new study done by a team of British and Korean scientists has reported that oxytocin, also known to many people as the ‘love hormone’, could provide a new treatment for anorexia nervosa.

The study, published in March, 2014 found that oxytocin alters anorexic patients’ tendencies to fixate on images of high calorie foods, and larger body shape. Those who are anoxic have the tendencies of being mired by ugly thoughts of overweight. Before this research the group had done an earlier research that oxytocin changed patients’ responses to angry and disgusted faces.

This disorder; Anorexia nervosa is a serious catastrophe that affects approximately 1 in 150 teenage girls in the UK and is one of leading causes of mental health related deaths, both through physical complications and suicide. This disorder does not only present its victims with food problems, body and shape issues but also affects how people relate in the social circles. People who are suffering from this disorder do exhibit anxiety and hypersensitivity to negative emotions.

“Patients with anorexia have a range of social difficulties which often start in their early teenage years, before the onset of the illness. 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. “Says Professor Janet Treasure from the Eating Disorders Section in the Department of Psychological Medicine at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and senior author on both studies.

As stated in an introductory article to oxytocin: Oxytocin is a hormone released naturally during bonding, including sex, childbirth and breastfeeding. As a synthesized product, it has been tested as a treatment for many psychiatric disorders, and has been shown to have benefits in lowering social anxiety in people with autism. It helps improve relationships and settle problems with associated with social disorders.

The first Test

In this study, the first of its king on this issue, 31 patients with anorexia and 33 healthy controls were given either a dose of oxytocin, delivered via nasal spray, or a placebo. The participants were then asked to look at sequences of images relating to foods some of which were in calories while others had low calories, body shape (fat and thin), and weight (scales). Once the images flashed on screen, the researchers measured how quickly participants identified the images. If they had a tendency to focus on the negative images, they would identify them more rapidly. The test was done before and after taking oxytocin or placebo.

After taking oxytocin, patients with anorexia reduced their focus on images of food and fat body parts. The effect of oxytocin was particularly strong in patients with anorexia who had greater communication problems. The findings of this study were published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

The second Test

After the first phase of the test, the second test was done and it involved the same participants, A similar test was done, before and after oxytocin or placebo, but this time the stimuli was changed as it involved testing the participants’ reactions to facial expressions, such as anger, disgust or happiness unlike in the first phase where it involved images of food, body and weights. After taking a dose of oxytocin, patients with anorexia were less likely to focus on the ‘disgust’ faces. They were also less likely to avoid looking at angry faces, and became simply vigilant to them. The findings of this study were published in PLOS ONE.

Eating disorder“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. 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.” says Prof Youl-Ri Kim, from Inje University in Seoul, South Korea and lead author on both studies.

“This is early stage research with a small number of participants, but it’s hugely exciting to see the potential this treatment could have. We need much larger trials, on more diverse populations, before we can start to make a difference to how patients are treated.” adds, Prof Treasure.

With ongoing research new and even better treatments will be discovered and fighting eating disorders will be a lot easier. These problems need to be treated effectively through integrative medicine. Dr. Dalal Akoury (MD) is an expert at this. Call her on (843) 213-1480 for help.

Oxytocin May Remedy Eating Disorders