Scientists have been studying the “love hormone” oxytocin for decades, noting its important role in lowering stress levels and strengthening the bond between people.
What exactly is oxytocin? It’s the hormone released during kissing, cuddling, breastfeeding, shaking hands, and of course, sex.
Release of the hormone also sets off a sense of reward in the brain, and a new study by York University in the UK set out to find if it has any effect on binge eaters, who are said to have an abnormally wired reward system.
"Increases in oxytocin tend to decrease appetite — especially the consumption of sweet carbohydrates."
Dr. Caroline Davis and Dr. James Kennedy from the university’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) assessed a large group of people aged 27 to 50 over the past 10 years, asking them to fill out questionnaires about their food preferences, reward and punishment sensitivity, as well as overeating habits.
The researchers then used DNA blood samples to study their oxytocin receptor gene – the one responsible for determining how an individual’s cells respond to the hormone – to see if and how variants in the gene determined their food preferences and personality traits related to the brain’s reward system.
Release of the hormone also sets off a sense of reward in the brain.
They found that participants with the variant in their oxytocin receptor gene called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) also had the traits of a binge eater.
“Increases in oxytocin tend to decrease appetite — especially the consumption of sweet carbohydrates,” said Dr. Davis.
She added, "Another SNP was directly related to overeating. These results support the role of genes in giving rise to traits that regulate behavior, and highlight the importance of oxytocin in overeating.”