Oxytocin nasal spray improves self-control in overweight men

April 3, 2016, The Endocrine Society
Spacefilling model of oxytocin. Created using ACD/ChemSketch 8.0, ACD/3D Viewer and The GIMP. Credit: Wikipedia.

A single dose of oxytocin nasal spray, known to reduce food intake, decreases impulsive behavior in overweight and obese men, according to a preliminary study to be presented Saturday at the Endocrine Society's 98th annual meeting in Boston.

Oxytocin (made by Novartis) is a synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin, which is important for controlling food intake and weight. It is approved in Europe but not in the United States other than in clinical trials. Oxytocin is available in the United States as an intravenous or injectable drug (Pitocin) to induce labor.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital reported last year that oxytocin nasal spray reduced intake of calories and fat at a test meal without affecting appetite, but they were not sure how the drug has that affect. Results of their new pilot study in 10 overweight and suggest that one way oxytocin lowers food intake might be by improving self-control, said co-investigator Franziska Plessow, PhD, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a research fellow in the Neuroendocrine Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

"Knowing the mechanisms of action of intranasal oxytocin is important to investigating oxytocin as a novel treatment strategy for obesity," Plessow said. "This information may allow us to move forward to large clinical trials, identify who can benefit from the drug, and help optimize the treatment."

To demonstrate the study subjects' ability to suppress , the investigators administered a psychology research test called the stop-signal task. In this test, the subject sat in front of a computer and became trained to respond to a square symbol on the computer screen by pressing a designated left button on the keyboard and to a triangle by pressing a right button. After the subject became familiar with that task, he was told to not press a button when he saw a symbol but heard a beep (the stop signal). Because the beep occurred after the symbols appeared with a varying delay that was adjusted to each subject, the new task required the subject to control the behavioral impulse to respond, Plessow explained.

Participants took the test on two occasions 15 minutes after they self-administered a dose of nasal spray in each nostril. In a randomly assigned order, one day they received oxytocin and another they received a placebo, or dummy drug. Neither participants nor the tester knew which treatment they received. The men ranged in age from 23 to 43 years and were overweight or obese (BMI ranging from 27.7-33.9 kg/m2).

The study, which received pilot grants from the National Institutes of Health-funded Boston Nutrition Obesity Research Center and Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Harvard, had exciting results, according to Plessow. After receiving oxytocin, participants less frequently pressed the button when they were not supposed to. This demonstrated that they were acting less impulsively and exerting more control over their behavior after receiving oxytocin, she said.

Plessow said more study is necessary to determine how oxytocin alters self-control and how important this mechanism is in regulating since not all overeating relates to poor self-control. They also will need to test the drug in women.

"Our preliminary results in men are promising," she said. "Oxytocin nasal spray showed no strong side effects and is not as invasive as obesity surgery."

Explore further: Oxytocin nasal spray causes men to eat fewer calories

Related Stories

Oxytocin nasal spray causes men to eat fewer calories

March 5, 2015
A synthetic nasal formulation of the hormone oxytocin reduced caloric intake in healthy men, particularly consumption of fatty foods, after a single treatment, a new study finds. The results, to be presented Sunday at The ...

'Love hormone' oxytocin, possible anxiety drug, shows different effects in male and female mice

December 2, 2015
Clinical trials are testing whether oxytocin, sometimes called the "love hormone" for its role in intimacy and social bonding, has potential as a treatment for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. New research ...

A single spray of oxytocin improves brain function in children with autism

December 2, 2013
A single dose of the hormone oxytocin, delivered via nasal spray, has been shown to enhance brain activity while processing social information in children with autism spectrum disorders, Yale School of Medicine researchers ...

Oxytocin increases social altruism

November 26, 2015
Nowadays, much emphasis is placed on sustainability. The degree to which people are willing to donate their own money for this depends on their level of oxytocin. Scientists at the University of Bonn Hospital have discovered ...

Nasal spray device for mental illness

August 28, 2015
Researchers at the University of Oslo have tested a new device for delivering hormone treatments for mental illness through the nose. This method was found to deliver medicine to the brain with few side effects.

No oxytocin benefit for autism

July 18, 2013
The so-called trust hormone, oxytocin, may not improve the symptoms of children with autism, a large study led by UNSW researchers has found.

Recommended for you

Can we really tell if it's love at first sight?

May 25, 2018
Long-term and short-term relationships are obviously different from each other. Some people are the type you'd want to marry; others are good primarily for the sex.

People with family history of alcoholism release more dopamine in expectation of alcohol

May 23, 2018
People with a family history of alcohol use disorder (AUD) release more dopamine in the brain's main reward center in response to the expectation of alcohol than people diagnosed with the disorder, or healthy people without ...

Why we fail to understand our smartphone use

May 23, 2018
Checking your phone dozens of times a day indicates unconscious behaviour, which is "extremely repetitive" say psychologists.

Study confirms that men and women tend to adopt different navigation strategies

May 23, 2018
When navigating in a known environment, men prefer to take shortcuts to reach their destination more quickly, while women tend to use routes they know. This is according to Alexander Boone of UC Santa Barbara in the US who ...

Early life trauma in men associated with reduced levels of sperm microRNAs

May 22, 2018
Exposure to early life trauma can lead to poor physical and mental health in some individuals, which can be passed on to their children. Studies in mice show that at least some of the effects of stress can be transmitted ...

Training compassion 'muscle' may boost brain's resilience to others' suffering

May 22, 2018
It can be distressing to witness the pain of family, friends or even strangers going through a hard time. But what if, just like strengthening a muscle or learning a new hobby, we could train ourselves to be more compassionate ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.