Research undertaken by British and Korean scientists has indicated that a brain chemical, oxytocin, also described as a ‘love hormone’ may prove to be effective as a treatment for those suffering with eating disorders.
Studies that have been done with anorexic patients have shown that the chemical changed their tendencies to fixate on images such as large body shapes and fattening foods. The study indicates that this form of treatment may aid in overcoming the unhealthy obsession anorexics have with their diet.
Anorexia nervosa is most prevalent among females, but it can also affect males. This disease affects millions globally. In the UK around one in 150 teenage females are affected by the condition. It is known as one of the main causes of mental-health related deaths. This is due to the physical complications related to the condition and suicide.
Individuals with anorexia have problems related to their body shape, eating patterns and food. This often leads to social difficulties such as anxiety. According to Janet Treasure, a professor based at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, patients who suffer with anorexia experience a range of social problems during the early teenage years which may commence before their illness.
Oxytocin is a hormone that is released naturally during intimate human bonding activities, such as childbirth, during sex and whilst breastfeeding. The hormone has undergone tests for different forms of psychiatric disorders. The results of the tests have indicated that those suffering with autism can benefit from it because it lowers social anxiety.
During the initial two studies, the research team worked with 31 anorexic patients and 33 healthy persons who were offered either a placebo or oxytocin. The participants were asked prior to and after taking the placebo or the drug to view images related to low and high calories foods, thin and fat body shapes, and weight.
During the process, the researchers measured the time it took participants to identify the flashing images. In cases where they had a tendency to focus on negative issues, they would be quicker at identifying the image.
It was found that after anorexic patients had taken the hormone, their focus on fat bodies and food was greatly reduced.
A second study was done where participants’ reactions to facial expressions, such as happiness, disgust or anger were recorded. It was found that after a dose of oxytocin the anorexic patients placed less focus on the ‘disgust’ image.
The researchers, although pleased with the results, have stated that more trials need to be done.
Image credit: Charlotte Astrid