Cue all the sayings and songs about love because perhaps love can conquer all, including the most dangerous psychiatric disorder in the world, anorexia.
Two different studies related to each other have found that oxytocin, a hormone released naturally in human bonding, including during lovemaking, childbirth and caring for a child, has the potential to cure anorexia.
Oxytocin is also known as the "love hormone," and has been known to lower the level of anxiety in individuals suffering from autism, a disorder that presents difficulties in social relationships. Anorexia, on the other hand, is a disorder that is rooted in a deep sensitivity to social ranking and public perception. It affects one in 200 women in the United States, and is the third most common chronic disorder among adolescents.
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders said that between 5 and 10 percent of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease. About 18 to 20 percent of anorexics will be dead after 20 years. Only 30 to 40 percent of anorexics actually recover completely.
The outlook is bleak for individuals suffering from anorexia, as only 1 in 10 people with eating disorders actually get treatment. Treatment is also very costly, ranging from $500 to $ 2,000 per day. In-patient treatment averages $ 30,000 a month while out-patient treatment costs can go as high as $100,000. Treatment of eating disorders are not normally covered by health insurance.
However, as it turns out, doctors need not look any further than the love hormone for a cure.
The first study, whose results have been published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, had 64 participants. Of the 64, 31 have been diagnosed with anorexia, while 33 did not have the eating disorder. The participants were asked to look at images of an assortment of food and various body parts, including a different body shapes, and their reactions were tracked.
Then they were given either a dose of oxytocin, which was delivered via nasal spray, or a placebo. They then were asked to look at images again, and their reactions were tracked anew. The anorexic participants who were given oxytocin were monitored to fixate less on the "negative" images of food and fat body parts. This is significant because anorexics are known to fixate on images of overweight people. After the oxytocin has been administered, the reactions of the anorexic patients were much closer to the reaction of those without the eating disorder.
The second study, which was published in PLOS ONE, has found that anorexic women paid less attention to images featuring disgusted faces after they were given a shot of oxytocin, although their vigilance against angry faces increased.
"Disgust is very much a signal of not being 'in with the in crowd,'" explained Janet Treasure, professor of psychiatry and director of the eating disorders unit at King's College London Institute of Psychiatry and senior author for both studies. "I think people with anorexia do feel those putdowns and social ranking [very intensely]. And when it comes to rage, anorexic patients suppress anger a lot, and yet, inside, they have a lot of anger and frustration."
And love can potentially cure this after all. The Beatles must have been on to something when they sang, "Love is all we need.