Synthetic Oxytocin May Help People With Social Problems
It all depends on how it's administered, new study finds.
March 12, 2020
Oxytocin — also known as the “love hormone” — plays a significant role in childbirth and breastfeeding, but is probably better known for the it’s feel-good properties that are released when you snuggle or bond with a person or a pet. Now, new research from King’s College London suggests that synthetic oxytocin may — depending on how it is administered — help people with social difficulties deriving from an underlying mental health conditions, like depression or anxiety.
Published in the journal Nature Communications, this was the first study to compare different delivery methods of synthetic oxytocin, including administration via an injection, nasal spray, and nebulizer. As it turns out, each method targeted different parts of the brain.
For example, study participants who received oxytocin nasally and intravenously showed less regional blood flow to the part of the brain (the amygdala) responsible for processing emotion, helping them better manage their social anxiety.
“Our results show that a one-size-fits-all approach to administrating oxytocin is not the best approach and, to a certain extent, it may be possible to target where in the brain it takes effect,” Yannis Paloyelis, a researcher at the college’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “This has important implications for the potential application of oxytocin to patients as it suggests that, for some disorders, one route or mode of administration may be superior to others.”
Ultimately, more research is needed to determine how to best target the parts and functions of the brain relevant to an individual patient’s needs, but for now, it’s another step towards more effective treatments for depression and anxiety.
About the writer:
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, CNN, Fodor’s, Lifehacker, Reader’s Digest and Playboy.
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