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Love hormone may combat anorexia

Thursday March 13th, 2014

Women suffering from anorexia may be helped by treatment with the love hormone oxytocin, researchers have revealed.

So far researchers have done early tests on the idea, suggesting that oxytocin may change the body and food fixations that lead women to starve themselves.

The researchers at The Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London - working with doctors in South Korea - say they have successfully used the hormone to change patients' attitudes.

They believe it can help counteract the social problems and isolation they often find in patients with anorexia.

The treatment has been used in the past to help people with autism - and recent studies suggest there may be common features with anorexia.

Oxytocin is triggered when people bond with each other, such as through childbirth or sexual relationships.

A second study also sought to boost the patients' self-confidence, testing the effect of the hormone on their reaction to facial expressions such as disgust. This showed that patients given the hormone stopped dwelling on facial expressions of disgust and became less afraid of angry faces.

The research has been published in Psychoneuroendocrinology and in PLoS One.

Professor Janet Treasure, from London, said the potential of the treatment was "hugely exciting."

She said: "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."

Fellow researcher Professor Youl-Ri Kim, from Inje University in Seoul, South Korea, added: "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."

Kim, Y-R. et al. Intranasal oxytocin attenuates attentional bias for eating and fat shape stimuli in patients with anorexia nervosa. Psychoneuroendocrinology March 2014

Kim, Y-R. et al. The impact of intranasal oxytocin on attention to social emotional stimuli in patients with anorexia nervosa: a double blind within subject cross-over experiment. PLOS ONE 6 March 2014

Tags: Mental Health | Pharmaceuticals | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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