KU Leuven: Administration of oxytocin triggers production of that cuddle hormone

Anyone who injects oxytocin, also called the ‘cuddle hormone’, through the nose for a while will subsequently produce more oxytocin. Researchers from KU Leuven were able to determine this effect in people with autism. One month after treatment, they still showed higher oxytocin levels in the saliva. The results were published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.

That the administration of oxytocin has an influence on the behavior of people with autism, Professor Kaat Alaerts and her colleagues have already established in an earlier study . Now they found the evidence for this behavioral change: their oxytocin levels were elevated. “We looked at the effects of the so-called ‘hugging hormone’ in 40 adult men with autism,” explains Professor Alaerts. “At the start of the study, we took a saliva sample from each of them to determine their individual oxytocin level, a baseline measurement. Afterwards, the test group received daily oxytocin via a nasal spray for a month, the control group received a placebo. ” Twenty-four hours after the last administration, another saliva sample was taken, and again four weeks later.

Positive spiral
Analysis of these saliva samples now shows that people who receive oxytocin for four weeks still have higher levels of the hormone in the body for up to a month after treatment. “This cannot possibly be a remnant of the externally administered doses and was thus produced by their body itself,” says Professor Alaerts. She also immediately sees a statement: “Oxytocin makes us behave more socially. Social contact in turn causes the body to produce extra oxytocin, which in turn can cause us to behave more socially and so on. ”

Oxytocin makes us behave more socially. Social contact, in turn, causes the body to produce extra oxytocin, which in turn can cause us to behave more socially and so on.

“The results we are presenting today are the result of an initial pilot study. A lot of additional research is needed before oxytocin can be used for the treatment of social or attachment problems, ”says Professor Alaerts .;

Follow-up study in the risers
A first follow-up study is already on the rise. Professor Alaerts’ team is currently working on a study of the effects of oxytocin in children with autism between 8 and 12 years old. In addition, there are plans for a similar study on a larger scale to be able to demonstrate the effects of the hugging hormone in even more people, for example in children with an intellectual disability in addition to autism.

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