Editors' ChoiceNutrition

Oxytocin Curbs Cookie Consumption

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Science Translational Medicine  23 Oct 2013:
Vol. 5, Issue 208, pp. 208ec173
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3007768

Can the same hormone that helps you bond with people help you lose weight? Historically, oxytocin has been recognized for its role in lactation, parturition, and, more recently, social bonding, but this neuropeptide may also affect eating behavior. Animal studies of rodents with diet-induced obesity have shown that chronic administration of oxytocin diminishes food intake, resulting in weight loss. In a study published this month, Ott et al. examine the effect of oxytocin on eating behavior in humans.

In a double-blind, cross-over, within-subject study, 20 healthy lean [mean body mass index (BMI) 22.7 kg/m2], young (mean age 26.3) men received intranasal oxytocin versus placebo on 2 separate days. After administration of one of the two intranasal substances, on each testing day the men were presented with a breakfast buffet (hungry condition) followed by an array of sweet, salty, and bland snacks (satiated condition). In the hungry condition (breakfast buffet), men ate the same amount regardless of oxytocin or placebo administration. Interestingly, after administration of oxytocin, men ate fewer snacks; specifically, their consumption of chocolate cookies decreased by 25%. Additionally, oxytocin administration decreased adrenocorticotropic hormone, cortisol, and peak glucose response after breakfast, whereas it did not affect insulin levels, subjective hunger, olfaction, or energy expenditure (assessed by indirect calorimetry). The authors suggest that oxytocin diminished reward-based eating but did not influence hunger-based eating; furthermore, it affected hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity and, perhaps, postprandial glucoregulation.

This study provides evidence in humans that oxytocin may play a role not only in our intimate relationships with people but also in our relationship with food—specifically, reward-based eating. Concurrently, a recent pilot study in China found that 8 weeks of intranasal oxytocin reduced weight in nine obese individuals. Certainly, studies must be conducted in a larger sample of subjects, including women and obese individuals, with administration over a longer period of time to investigate whether intranasal oxytocin is indeed a potential pharmacologic agent for the treatment of obesity. In the meantime, perhaps increasing our oxytocin levels with a hug may help us skip dessert.

V. Ott et al., Oxytocin reduces reward-driven food intake in humans. Diabetes 62, 3418–3425 (2013). [Abstract]

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