Oxytocin, or love hormone, could be used as a treatment for the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, scientists suggest.
Small studies by British and Korean scientists indicated patients were less likely to fixate on food and body image after a dose of oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a hormone released naturally during bonding, childbirth and breastfeeding.
It has already been suggested as a treatment for a range of psychiatric disorders, and has been shown to help lower social anxiety in people with autism.
One four-week study in Australia found people given doses of oxytocin had reduced weight and shape concerns.
In the first of the most recent studies, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, 31 patients with anorexia and 33 people who did not have the condition were given either a dose of oxytocin, delivered via nasal spray, or a placebo, or dummy, treatment.
Oxytocin, or love hormone, could be used as a treatment for the eating disorder anorexia nervosa
They then looked at a series of images to do with a range high and low calorie foods and people of different body shapes and weight.
People with anorexia have previously been found to focus for longer on images of overweight people and what they perceive as undesirable body shapes.
However after taking oxytocin, patients with anorexia were less likely to focus on such “negative” images of food and fat body parts.
The second study, published in PLOS ONE, involved the same people and looked at their reactions to facial expressions, such as anger, disgust or happiness.
It has been suggested that anorexia can be linked to a heightened perception of threat, and animal research has shown oxytocin treatment lessened the amount of attention paid to threatening facial expressions.
In this study, patients with anorexia were less likely to focus on the “disgust” faces after oxytocin treatment.
They were also less likely to avoid looking at angry faces.
Eating disorder expert Prof. Janet Treasure, from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, led both studies.
She said: “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.”
Her co-researcher, Prof. Youl-Ri Kim, from Inje University in Seoul, South Korea, added: “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.”
A new research shows that the size of a woman’s brain grows after their baby is born with increased growth linked to the mother’s enthusiasm and affection for their child.
Brain scans taken of pregnant women before and after giving birth showed an increase in their mid-brain after childbirth, according to the report completed at Yale University.
“We observed small but significant increases in the volume of gray matter in the brain,” said study co-author Dr. Pilyoung Kim to My Health News Daily.
According to the report published in Behavioral Neuroscience in October of 2010, for adults, gray matter’s volume typically does not change over a few month period, like those new mothers studied, making the findings so out of the ordinary.
Typically that kind of growth isn’t seen without a brain experiencing significant learning, injury, illness, or undergoing a major environmental change.
Specifically the researchers saw its growth to the hypothalamus, substantia nigra and amygdala, parietal lobe and prefrontal cortex.
Those regions are responsible for one’s emotion, reasoning and judgement, the senses, and reward behavior, according to the report.
Brain scans taken of pregnant women before and after giving birth showed an increase in their mid-brain after childbirth
With their findings, mothers who showed more enthusiasm over their birth, describing their child using words as special, beautiful, ideal, and perfect, were found more likely to show an increase in their mid-brain opposed to others.
Dr. Pilyoung Kim, who’s currently with the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington, hopes the findings can further help scientists learn what motivates some mothers more than others in caring for their children.
“We’re currently researching whether giving moms oxytocin, a hormone that triggers a reward response in the brain, could influence their response to their child,” Dr. Lane Strathearn, a developmental pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, told My Health News Daily.
Dr. Pilyoung Kim’s findings further correlate to a previous report undertaken by Dr. Lane Strathearn in 2008 that showed that a baby’s smile lights up a mother’s reward centers in her brain, like the prefrontal cortex found in the 2010 study.
“A baby’s smile is a very powerful stimulus,” said Dr Stathearn speaking to ABC News.
“It makes sense biologically. Babies are completely and utterly dependent on their caregivers. It makes sense that nature would build in a system that would reinforce that relationship,” she said.
One question researchers on the brain’s growth say they are still working to figure out, however, is the reasoning behind the findings.
“We don’t know whether it’s the experience that changes the brain, or the brain that changes the experience,” said Dr. Pilyoung Kim.
Her team suspects a woman’s increase in hormones like estrogen, oxytocin and prolactin as possible factors as well.