Oxytocin Nasal Spray is the hormone oxytocin delivered in the form of a nasal spray. Oxytocin has gained widespread interest and fame in the last few years because of its increasingly scientific demonstrated role in the social behaviour of humans, from mothers bonding with their children, to gamblers willing to take risks or to trust others. Oxytocin nasal spray is the most common form of delivery because it is the only way so far found to overcome the blood brain barrier - important in administering oxytocin, because otherwise the hormone is quickly dissipitated in the blood stream before it has a chance to reach the brain.
A small clinical study performed by researchers in Sweden has given hope that oxytocin nasal spray may have benefits for sufferers of mental illness, and in particular patients who have difficulty understanding and reacting appropriately to social signals, including patients with autism.
Now, Scandinavian scientists have produced new data from a small clinical trial showing that low doses of oxytocin delivered as a nasal spray might benefit patients with mental and cognitive problems.
Researchers from the University of Oslo in Norway teamed up with Yardley, Pa.-based OptiNose to test the company’s investigational device designed to improve medicine delivery to the brain via the nose. The advantage of nasal drug delivery is that the effects can be felt more immediately than medication in an oral form. Nasal delivery is also used as a noninvasive alternative for some drugs that were traditionally administered intravenously. OptiNose claims that its technology delivers oxytocin to the upper part of the nose, which is thought to be a better target to get drugs to the brain.
The trial enrolled 16 healthy adult volunteers and evaluated two different doses of oxytocin and their effect on how social signals are perceived. Each of the men underwent four, single-dose treatments: a placebo, a low dose of oxytocin, a high dose of oxytocin and an intravenous dose of oxytocin. The intravenous dose was used to compare the effects of oxytocin in circulating blood. After each dose, participants were then presented with 20 male and 20 female faces displaying angry, happy and emotionally ambiguous expressions and were asked to identify how angry or happy the people seemed.
Oxytocin spray may help those with anorexia and body image disorders according to the latest research into the 'love hormone'.
Scientists in the UK and Korea have reportedly found that oxytocin helped volunteers with anorexia form more positive associations with both food and body image than those being given a placebo.
A small, preliminary study hints that a hormone connected to positive feelings could help ease obsessions with food and obesity in people with anorexia.
"Patients with anorexia have a range of social difficulties, which often start in their early teenage years before the onset of the illness," senior study author Janet Treasure, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, in England, said in a university news release.
"These social problems, which can result in isolation, may be important in understanding both the onset and maintenance of anorexia," Treasure said. "By using [the hormone] oxytocin as a potential treatment for anorexia, we are focusing on some of these underlying problems we see in patients."
Oxytocin is sometimes called the "love hormone." It's released during bonding activities like childbirth and sex, and researchers have linked artificial forms of it to lowering anxiety in people with autism.
In the new study, researchers gave oxytocin or a placebo, via nasal spray, to 31 patients with anorexia and 33 healthy "control" patients. They all were asked to look at sequences of images relating to different types of food, and different body shapes and weights. The researchers measured how quickly participants identified the images. If they had a tendency to focus on the negative images, they would identify them more quickly.
After taking oxytocin, the anorexic patients appeared to be less obsessed about images of food and obesity, the researchers said. The study did not, however, prove a cause-and-effect link between oxytocin and the decreased feelings of obsession.
Oxytocin has been previously linked to possible treatments for social disorders varying from autism to social phobia.
Another study has demonstrated a clear link between oxytocin and autism. It was found that giving children a single dose of oxytocin nasal spray activated the areas of the 'social brain' in them.
"Our findings provide the first, critical steps toward devising more effective treatments for the core social deficits in autism, which may involve a combination of clinical interventions with an administration of oxytocin," said study author Ilanit Gordon. "Such a treatment approach will fundamentally improve our understanding of autism and its treatment." The findings are preliminary, however, and the treatment will need more rigorous investigation before it could be recommended for use in the general public.
Studies such as these suggest that oxytocin nasal sprays may not only be used in the future to treat autism, but also other disorders which involve failings in social functioning, such as schizophrenia and, of course, social anxiety.
Following studies that indicated an improvement in the social skills of patients with autism after taking an oxytocin nasal spray, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland has conducted a similar study to investigate whether oxytocin could improve the social skill deficits of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.
As well as suffering from delusions and hallucinations, patients with schizophrenia also suffer from a similar lack of ability as autistics to recognise the emotional states of others, and to function well in social situations.
The research carried out at Maryland found a dramatic improvement in the ability of the schizophrenic patients involved in the tests to recognise the emotional states of others from pictures of their faces. This dramatic improvement in the social skils of schizophrenics was made after just 3 weeks of treatment with oxytocin. Head of the research - B. B. Averbeck - believes more extensive research should now be conducted to further the exploration of the positive effects of oxytocin on patients with autism or schizophrenia.
Although many research papers have earned oxytocin the title of 'the love hormone' or 'the cuddle hormone', several studies have suggested that oxytocin may even increase hostility to others perceived to be outside of the 'ingroup'. Research has even raised fears that the hormone may simply magnify existing social traits. So for example, whilst in most humans oxytocin might increase social bonding and trust in others, in certain people - such as psychopaths and violent anti-social criminals - it could even make their proclivities even more dangerous.
So researchers recently decided to conduct a thorough investigation into the effects of animals that are very like us, except that they are noted for competition and aggression (so perhaps very like us humans) - Rhesus monkeys. Would the inhalation of oxytocin nasal spray make the monkeys more or even less sociable?
The results of the study are encouraging. The monkeys given oxytocin spray were more likely to let other Rhesus monkeys have a sip of 'their' juice than before. The conclusion is that oxytocin could lead to more altruistic behaviour and kindness in the most hostile and aggressive humans.