Can The "Love Hormone" Cure Anorexia?

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Mental illness care has come a long way over the last few decades. As scientists have learned more about psychological disorders, they've been able to devise treatment options for things like depression and bipolar disorder that combine counseling with powerful medications. However, eating disorders remain frustrating, and there are still shockingly few remedies out there. Yes, psychotherapy and counseling programs are widely available (and often successful). Still, doctors have been unable to come up with a way to effectively supplement counseling programs with meds for disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

But, new research suggests that there might be a very poetic answer to this particular issue. A number of recent studies have found that a dose of oxytocin — the hormone most commonly associated with love and bonding, and released during sex and childbirth — can help those struggling with anorexia to cultivate a healthier self-image.

We're particularly intrigued by a recent study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, which involved both anorexic individuals and a control group. Each subject was given either a dose of oxytocin or a placebo via a nasal spray and then shown a series of photos of high-calorie foods and people with a range of body types. Among the subjects suffering from anorexia, the researchers found that those who received the oxytocin spent less time scrutinizing the photos of high-calorie foods and people they deemed overweight — a widespread tendency among eating-disordered individuals that can be seen all too clearly in the pro-Ana community.

Of course, more research is necessary, and there is no such thing as a magic cure for a psychological disorder as complex and challenging as anorexia. Still, studies like these suggest that those suffering from eating disorders might soon have one more weapon in their arsenal. (BBC Health)