Oxytocin is well known for its role in a wide variety of social behaviors. It’s therefore not been a complete surprise that a number of studies have and continue to hold promise for the ‘trust hormone’ to be used as a therapy for a wide range of social handicaps such as autism, schizophrenia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. However, a study published this week has suggested that it might even help to prevent osteoporosis – an aging related disease that leads to loss of bone density and strength.
The team of scientists working at São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Brazil demonstrated that when administered to female rats at the end of their fertile period, the hormone reversed precursors of osteoporosis, such as reduced bone density and decreased bone strength.
Perhaps the findings are not so surprising when you consider that oxytocin first became known for its role in the female reproductive cycle.
In the study, the researchers administered two doses of oxytocin 12 hours apart to ten female Wistar rats. They were 18 months old, an unusually advanced age for laboratory rats, which have an average life expectancy of three years. Most in vivo experiments involve young rats that have been ovariectomized, i.e., had their ovaries surgically removed. The study involved rats in “peri-estropause”, considered to be the equivalent of perimenopause in humans, that were undergoing a natural aging process.
Thirty-five days after oxytocin was administered, the researchers analyzed blood samples and samples of tissue from the femoral neck (the upper portion of the femur just below the hip joint and the most common location for a hip fracture), comparing the results with those for ten 18-month-old female Wistar rats that were not given the hormone.
There was no evidence of osteopenia (loss of bone density) in the animals treated with oxytocin, in contrast with the control group. “Our results demonstrated that oxytocin helps to modulate the bone remodeling cycle in senescent rats,” Dornelles said. “The animals that received the hormone displayed an increase in biochemical markers associated with bone renewal and in the expression of proteins that support bone formation and mineralization.”