For men who want to lose weight, the love hormone oxytocin can be a helpful dieting tool. Findings of a new study involving a small number of men reveal the hormone can reduce appetite and lead to less caloric intake.

Oxytocin is dubbed the love hormone because it is associated with many activities that bond people together such as sex, kissing, hugging and breastfeeding. It is also often used to induce labor and is being considered for its potential in treating disorders such as autism.

Earlier animal studies on oxytocin have shown the hormone can boost metabolic function. The study provides evidence oxytocin may also work as a weight loss tool for those who tend to overeat.

The new research was presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in San Diego on March 8 by Elizabeth Lawson from the Harvard Medical School in Boston. The study involved 25 men who were 27 years old on average, about half of whom were either overweight or obese. The men either self administered an oxytocin nasal spray or were given a placebo before they ordered breakfast from a menu.

The participants were provided with double portions of what they ordered. The researchers then noted the amount of food eaten. The participants did the experiment for the second time but those who received the placebo the first time were given the oxytocin while those who had the oxytocin nasal spray were then given the placebo.

The researchers found the participants who took the oxytocin consumed 122 fewer calories on average compared with those who had placebo. Those in the oxytocin group were likewise found to consume less fatty food, or about 9 fat grams fewer on average.

"Our results are really exciting," Lawson said. "Further study is needed, but I think oxytocin is a promising treatment for obesity and its metabolic complications."

Paul Zak, from the Claremont Graduate University in California, said the hormone is released during positive social interactions. For individuals who want to lose weight, being around those who care during meals may help reduce the appetite.

The researchers plan to continue investigating the use of oxytocin before meals as a tool for treating obesity. They also want to know if the hormone produces similar results with women.

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