Research Round: The Secrets of Oxytocin

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Treating anorexia nervosa is definitely no easy task.  Patients tend to completely distrust the medical professionals who are trying to treat them and will do everything in their power to sabotage their recovery. They refuse to eat their calorie-laden, fatty meals comprised of revolting hospital food. They dump their bags of feeding tube formula down toilet or drain. Hell, they even exercise in secret – something that is completely forbidden while admitted in an ED treatment center or hospital.   Once they are freed from the confines of the depressing medical facility they were at (either because their insurance ran out or they meant their “goal weight”), many patients almost immediately fall back on their dangerous, life-threatening habits of drastic caloric restriction, extreme overexercise, laxative abuse, and last but certainly not least – purging.

Now though, things are looking a little brighter when it comes to treating anorexics and ensuring a long-lasting recovery from their life-threatening disease.  What is this beacon of light in the dark world of eating disorders? It is a little something called oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone that is released during childbirth, sexual intercourse, and breastfeeding.  But this hormone isn’t  just about love and intimacy – actually studies have shown that oxytocin helps those with autism, social anxiety, and a variety of other psychiatric disorders.  Now after diligent research, anorexia nervosa can be added to the list of conditions oxytocin treats.

In a study published on March 13th, 2014 by the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology , a small group of anorexics and a small group of healthy individuals were given a nasal spray of oxytocin or a placebo. Each of the subjects were then asked to look at multiple images of high-calorie & lower calorie foods, fat and thin body figures, and weights on scales. Anorexics who were given the placebo payed much more attention to the images of food and of chubbier individuals. But, the anorexics that were given the oxytocin paid less attention to these images  – actually, their behaviors had improved so drastically, their results were similar to that of the healthy non-anorexic controls!

Another intriguing finding was discovered during a study conducted by Dr. Janet Treasure, a professor and the director of the eating disorder unit at London’s acclaimed King’s College.  Her and her colleagues found that those with anoerxia nervosa had variations in their oxytocin receptor genes.  These variations may result in a deficiency of the hormone , which has been linked to the severity of one’s anorexia.

With each passing year, I believe that we are coming closer and closer to finally finding a viable treatment option for those with anorexia nervosa. Currently, the options available to us now are pretty much a waste of our time and money.  Even treatment centers that boast remarkable success in restoring an ED – victim back to health have a myriad of people getting kidnapped once again by ED once again.  The prognosis for us anorexics is grim  – 20% of us will die and hardly any of us will ever reach a state of full recovery.   That is why we need to end our pity party, get out into our community,  and encourage people to donate to reliable organizations that will help fund research for  eating disorders. The discovery I just told you about above is a step in the right direction, but we all know that it certainly isn’t a cure. So everyone, GET UP AND START SPREADING THE WORD. ED NEEDS TO MEET HIS END FOR GOOD.

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