Friday, March 14th, 2014
Oxytocin, a chemical that is proving helpful in helping people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), particularly in terms of their ability to read social cues, is being researched for its possible application in treating anorexia, a disorder which currently has no established medication. More from Time.com:
Autism and anorexia have wildly different public faces. The stereotype of an autistic person is a little boy obsessed with trains or a brilliant coder with no social life, while the eating disorder victim is typically pictured as a driven young woman or girl, whose whole world revolves around presenting a carefully drawn picture of thinness and social perfection.
While stereotypes never capture the whole story, underlying both conditions is a rigid obsessiveness that appears within the first few years of life, as well as difficulties reading and responding appropriately to social signals. Not to mention, two of the major triggers for anorexia are a profound sense of alienation and sensitivity to social ranking, according to Dr. Janet Treasure, professor of psychiatry and director of the eating disorders unit at King’s College in London.
Evidence that oxytocin, a brain chemical also known as the “love hormone,” can help autistic people pay more attention to social cues and make socializing less stressful prompted Treasure to explore what effect it would have on anorexia. Now, three new studies of the hormone—best known for its role in bonding lovers to each other and parents to their children—suggest that it may indeed be a viable treatment for anorexia, which currently has no effective pharmacological medication and relies for the most part on therapy.
Image: Erasing anorexia, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
The hormone oxytocin may help the social brain functioning of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a new Yale University study has found. More from The Boston Globe:
Years of research has revealed the potent effects of oxytocin, a hormone that is naturally released during childbirth and has been nicknamed the “love hormone” for the role it appears to play in pair bonding, whether between couples or mother and baby. Then researchers began to administer the hormone to people in non-romantic situations, to see whether it would change their behavior.
The results were intriguing, suggesting that it helped increase cooperation and trust. As the hormone’s ability to enhance social responses was replicated in other studies, researchers began to wonder whether oxytocin might be helpful for people with autism spectrum disorders, which are characterized by impaired social functioning.
In the new work, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Yale researchers measured what happened in the brains of 17 children with autism spectrum disorder when they inhaled the hormone or a placebo, and were then directed to perform tasks in a brain scanner that used functional MRI technology. One task was designed to use the social parts of the brain—the children were asked to intuit the emotion a person was experiencing by looking at a photo of their eyes. In another, they were simply asked to identify a vehicle.
What the researchers found was that a single spray of the hormone increased functioning in the social parts of the brain when the children were confronted with the eye-reading task, while the activity in those areas decreased during the vehicle-naming task. Their performance on the task was not different, but researchers think the brain signals indicate that oxytocin made the social stimuli more relevant and rewarding.
“What’s happening in the brain, we think, is that oxytocin is improving how well we are tuning in to social stimuli, to a social world,” said Ilanit Gordon, an experimental psychologist who did the work at the Yale Child Study Center and is now an assistant professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
Image: Smiling boy, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
Oxytocin, also known as the “trust hormone,” is not found to have significant benefit in treating the symptoms of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have found. More from ScienceDaily.com:
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“Many parents of children with autism are already obtaining and using oxytocin nasal spray with their child, and clinical trials of the spray’s effects are underway all over the world. Oxytocin has been touted as a possible new treatment, but its effects may be limited,” [Psychology] Professor Mark Dadds says.
Autism is a complex condition of unknown cause in which children exhibit reduced interest in other people, impaired social communication skills and repetitive behaviours.
To determine its suitability as a general treatment Professor Dadds’ team conducted a randomised controlled clinical trial of 38 boys aged between seven and 16 years of age with autism. Half were given a nasal spray of oxytocin on four consecutive days.
The study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
“We found that, compared to a placebo, oxytocin did not significantly improve emotion recognition, social interaction skills, repetitive behaviours, or general behavioural adjustment,” says Professor Dadds.
Thursday, May 9th, 2013
The drug Pitocin, which is used to induce labor or keep labor going when it has slowed or stopped, has been found in a new study to have adverse effects on newborn babies. The study, which was presented this week at the Annual Clinical Meeting of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, was the first to report a negative effect of the widely-used drug.
The study was based on data collected from 3,000 women who gave birth between 2009 and 2011. The results showed that women who were given oxytocin (Pitocin is the most common brand name of this type of drug) were more likely to deliver babies who were unexpectedly admitted to the NICU after birth, and that those babies were more likely to remain in the NICU for more than 24 hours. Babies born from Pitocin-augmented labors were also more likely to score less than 7 on the Apgar test, the standard test that evaluates a newborn’s physical condition at one and five minutes after birth based on appearance (skin coloration), pulse (heart rate), grimace response (medically known as “reflex irritability”), activity and muscle tone, and respiration (breathing rate and effort). An Apgar score of 8 or higher is generally regarded as the standard for a baby in good health.
Researchers insist that they are not advocating for Pitocin to be eliminated from the labor room, but instead that the drug should be used only when strongly indicated, not, for example, for an elective labor induction.
“We don’t want to discourage the use of Pitocin, but simply want a more systematic and conscientious approach to the indications for its use,” Dr. Michael S. Tsimis, the study’s primary investigator, said in a statement.
Image: Woman with IV in hospital, via Shutterstock
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Friday, December 21st, 2012
New research is finding that oxytocin, the hormone that brings about feelings of love, connection, and belonging in relationships, may help fathers bond better with their children. More from Time.com:
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“In a study published in Biological Psychiatry, 35 fathers played with their five month old daughters, once after being given a nasal spray containing either oxytocin and again after being given a placebo. Each time, they were instructed to engage in a task called the “still face” paradigm, which produces a small, heart-tugging drama. Researchers measured oxytocin levels in both the dads and their babies before and after the exercise.
First, the father smiles and plays with the baby, who sits in an infant seat facing him. Then he keeps his face blank and expressionless, refusing to respond as the infant makes increasingly worried attempts to re-engage him. After a few minutes of watching but ignoring the child’s distress, the dad resumes a more loving expression and reassures baby that all is well.
After receiving oxytocin, the fathers were generally more responsive to their little girls— almost certainly having a harder time keeping their faces blank during the “still face” and consequently responding far more quickly when instructed to re-engage. Under the influence of the hormone, the dads made more eye contact, provided more touch, had more mirroring and reciprocal interactions and indulged in more baby talk than after receiving placebo.
Their babies also tended to respond more to their dads who had received the oxytocin sprays—with increased smiles, laughter, mirroring and play behavior—compared to their behavior when their dads were receiving the placebo. Their own oxytocin rose in near perfect sync with the elevation of the hormone occurring in their fathers.”