Chapter 5. Hormones and the Brain
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by Bethany Brookshire Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, can be a miserable experience. Women report over 200 symptoms in the days before menstruation occurs. The complaints run the gamut from irritable mood to bloating. PMS can be so slight you don’t even notice, or it can be so severe it has its own category — premenstrual dysphoric disorder. But to some, PMS is just a punchline, a joke featured in pop culture from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Saturday Night Live. Michael Gillings, who studies molecular evolution at Macquarie University in Sydney, thinks that PMS could have a purpose. In a perspective piece published August 11 in Evolutionary Adaptations, Gillings proposes that PMS confers an evolutionary advantage, increasing the likelihood that a woman will leave an infertile mate. He hopes that his idea could lead to more research and less stigma about the condition. But while his hypothesis certainly sparked a lot of discussion, whether it is likely, or even necessary, is in doubt. Gillings first began to think about PMS when he found out that premenstrual dysphoric disorder was being added to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. “I started to think that we have a normal distribution of PMS responses, where some people don’t get any symptoms, the majority gets mild symptoms, and some get severe symptoms,” he explains. Including PMDD in DSM-5 made a statement, he says, that “we were going to take one end of this normal curve, the extreme far right end, and we were going to draw a line and say, those people there have a disease we’re going to label in our book. But if 80 percent of women get some kind of premenstrual symptoms, then it’s normal. And I wondered, if it’s so normal, what could be the reason for it?” © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2014.
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Childhood treatment with human growth hormone is strongly associated with an increased risk for stroke in early adulthood, a new study has found. The study adds evidence to previous reports suggesting an increased cardiac and cerebrovascular risk in children treated with growth hormone. Researchers studied 6,874 children, average age 11, who were small for their age but otherwise generally healthy and were treated with growth hormone from 1985 to 1996. They followed them to an average age of 28. There were 11 strokes in the group, four of them fatal. The analysis found that this was more than twice as many strokes as would be expected in a population this size, a statistically significant difference. The results, published online in the journal Neurology, were particularly striking for hemorrhagic stroke, the type caused by a ruptured blood vessel — there were more than seven times as many as would be expected. The authors acknowledged that they were unable to take into account some risk factors for stroke, such as family history and smoking. “Subjects on growth hormones should not panic on reading these results,” said the senior author, Dr. Joël Coste, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the Hôtel Dieu hospital in Paris. “The doctor prescribing the hormone or the family doctor should be consulted and will be able to inform and advise patients.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
Older people who have a severe vitamin D deficiency have an increased risk of developing dementia, a study has suggested. UK researchers, writing in Neurology, looked at about 1,650 people aged over 65. This is not the first study to suggest a link - but its authors say it is the largest and most robust. However, experts say it is still too early to say elderly people should take vitamin D as a preventative treatment. There are 800,000 people with dementia in the UK with numbers set to rise to more than one million by 2021. Vitamin D comes from foods - such as oily fish, supplements and exposing skin to sunlight. However older people's skin can be less efficient at converting sunlight into Vitamin D, making them more likely to be deficient and reliant on other sources. The international team of researchers, led by Dr David Llewellyn at the University of Exeter Medical School, followed people for six years. All were free from dementia, cardiovascular disease and stroke at the start of the study. At the end of the study they found the 1,169 with good levels of vitamin D had a one in 10 chance of developing dementia. Seventy were severely deficient - and they had around a one in five risk of dementia. 'Delay or even prevent' Dr Llewellyn said: "We expected to find an association between low vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, but the results were surprising - we actually found that the association was twice as strong as we anticipated." He said further research was needed to establish if eating vitamin D rich foods such as oily fish - or taking vitamin D supplements - could "delay or even prevent" the onset of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. But Dr Llewellyn added: "We need to be cautious at this early stage and our latest results do not demonstrate that low vitamin D levels cause dementia. BBC © 2014
By Darryl Fears At first she was surprised. Then she was disturbed. Now she’s a little alarmed. Each time a different batch of male fish with eggs in their testes shows up in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Vicki Blazer’s eyebrows arch a bit higher. In the latest study, smallmouth bass and white sucker fish captured at 16 sites in the Delaware, Ohio and Susquehanna rivers in Pennsylvania had crossed over into a category called intersex, an organism with two genders. “I did not expect to find it quite as widespread,” said Blazer, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist who studies fish. Since 2003, USGS scientists have discovered male smallmouth and largemouth bass with immature eggs in several areas of the Potomac River, including near the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in the District. The previous studies detected abnormal levels of compounds from chemicals such as herbicides and veterinary pharmaceuticals from farms, and from sewage system overflows near smallmouth-bass nesting areas in the Potomac. Those endocrine-disrupting chemicals throw off functions that regulate hormones and the reproductive system. In the newest findings, at one polluted site in the Susquehanna near Hershey, Pa., 100 percent of male smallmouth bass that were sampled had eggs, Blazer said. With the mutant bass, she said, “we keep seeing . . . a correlation with the percent of agriculture in the watershed where we conduct a study.”
By Helen Briggs Health editor, BBC News website The timing of when a girl reaches puberty is controlled by hundreds of genes, say scientists. And age at first period may vary in daughters from the same family because of genetic factors, research shows. The findings, published in Nature, could give clues to why early puberty may be linked to an increased risk of health conditions. Scientists at 166 institutions analysed the DNA of more than 180,000 women in one of the largest studies of its kind. They found that hundreds of genes were involved in the timing of puberty. Unusually, a girl's first period was also influenced by imprinted genes - a rare event where genes from either the mother of father are silenced. "Our findings imply that in a family, one parent may more profoundly affect puberty timing in their daughters than the other parent," said lead researcher Dr John Perry of the University of Cambridge. He said the biological complexity revealed in the study was "amazing". "We identified more than 100 regions of the genome associated with puberty timing, but our analysis suggests there are likely to be thousands," he told BBC News. Lifestyle BBC © 2014
|By William Skaggs Jet lag is a pain. Besides the inconvenience and frustration of traveling more than a few time zones, jet lag likely causes billions of dollars in economic losses. The most effective treatment, according to much research, is structured exposure to light, although the drug melatonin may also sometimes be helpful at bedtime. Both approaches have been used for more than 20 years, and during that time no viable new interventions have appeared. Recently, however, research into the molecular biology of circadian rhythms has raised the prospect of developing new drugs that might produce better results. Jet lag occurs when the “biological clock” in the brain becomes misaligned with the local rhythm of daily activity. The ultimate goal of circadian medicine is a treatment that instantly resets the brain's clock. Failing that, it would be helpful to have treatments that speed the rate of adjustment. Four recent discoveries suggest new possibilities. The first involves vasopressin, which is the main chemical signal used to synchronize cellular rhythms of activity in the brain area that is responsible for our biological clock. Blocking vasopressin makes it much easier to reset this clock. Potentially, a drug that interferes with vasopressin could work as a fast-acting treatment for jet lag. The second and third possibilities involve a pair of brain chemicals called salt-inducible kinase 1 (SIK1) and casein kinase 1ε (CK1ε), both of which limit the ability of light to reset the brain's clock. Drugs already exist that interfere with their action and greatly increase the effectiveness of light exposure. The existing drugs are not viable jet-lag treatments, because they are hard to administer and have unpleasant side effects, but researchers hope better drugs can be developed that work in a similar way. © 2014 Scientific American,
By LISA SANDERS, M.D. On Wednesday, we challenged Well readers to solve the case of a middle-aged woman who suddenly began to have episodes of confusion caused by low blood sugars. Her endocrinologist thought she might have an insulinoma, an insulin-producing tumor of the pancreas, but the testing he did seemed to rule out that diagnosis. Nearly 200 of you took on the challenge of trying to figure out what was causing her life-threatening drops in blood sugar level. The correct diagnosis is… Insulinoma The first respondent to make the diagnosis was Karen Unkel of Kinder, La. She is not a doctor but has a longstanding interest in hypoglycemia that allowed her to recognize the disease even in the face of an apparently negative work-up. Well done, Ms. Unkel. An insulinoma is a rare tumor of pancreatic tissue that makes and secretes insulin independently of blood glucose levels. This results in episodes of hypoglycemia that can be quite severe, even life-threatening. The diagnosis is suspected when a patient fulfills what is known as Whipple’s triad: 1) symptoms of hypoglycemia 2) associated with low measured blood sugar and 3) which improve when blood sugar is raised to the normal range. The diagnosis is made when doctors show that the patient is making too much insulin given his or her blood sugar level. Measuring insulin levels is not always accurate because insulin is processed rapidly in the body and because it is difficult to distinguish between insulin made naturally in the pancreas and any insulin that the patient might be injecting. What is measured instead is something known as C-peptide. Insulin is first made as a larger molecule known as proinsulin. When blood sugar rises, an extra bit is shaved off the molecule; that extra bit is C-peptide, and both the resulting insulin and C-peptide are released into the bloodstream. © 2014 The New York Times Company
by Laura Sanders Some brain cells need a jolt of stress to snap to attention. Cells called astroglia help regulate blood flow, provide energy to nearby cells and even influence messages’ movement between nerve cells. Now, scientists report June 18 in Neuron that astroglia can be roused by the stress molecule norepinephrine, an awakening that may help the entire brain jump into action. As mice were forced to walk on a treadmill, an activity that makes them alert, astroglia in several parts of their brains underwent changes in calcium levels, a sign of activity, neuroscientist Dwight Bergles of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and colleagues found. Norepinephrine, which acts as a fight-or-flight hormone in the body and a neural messenger in the brain, seemed to cause the cell activity boost. When researchers depleted norepinephrine, treadmill walking no longer activated astroglia. It’s not clear whether astroglia in all parts of the brain heed this wake-up call, nor is it clear whether this activation influences behavior. Norepinephrine might help shift brain cells, both neurons and astroglia, into a state of heightened vigilance, the authors write. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013.
Virginia Morell If we humans inhale oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone,” we become more trusting, cooperative, and generous. Scientists have shown that it’s the key chemical in the formation of bonds between many mammalian species and their offspring. But does oxytocin play the same role in social relationships that aren’t about reproduction? To find out, scientists in Japan sprayed either oxytocin or a saline spray into the nostrils of 16 pet dogs, all more than 1 year old. The canines then joined their owners, who were seated in another room and didn’t know which treatment their pooch had received. The owners were instructed to ignore any social response from their dogs. But those Fidos that inhaled the oxytocin made it tough for their masters not to break the rule. A statistical analysis showed the canines were more likely to sniff, lick, and paw at their people than were those given the saline solution. The amount of time that the oxytocin-enhanced dogs spent close to their owners, staring at their eyes, was also markedly higher, the scientists report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Getting a whiff of oxytocin also made the dogs friendlier toward their dog pals as determined by the amount of time they spent in close proximity to their buddies. The study supports the idea, the scientists say, that oxytocin isn’t just produced in mammals during reproductive events. It’s also key to forming and maintaining close social relationships—even when those are with unrelated individuals or different species. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 19716 - Posted: 06.10.2014
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR The hormone estrogen is the recommended treatment for menopausal night sweats and hot flashes, but some women are unable or unwilling to use it. Now a clinical trial suggests that the antidepressant venlafaxine, often used as an alternative, is equally effective. In an eight-week placebo-controlled double-blind study, researchers randomly assigned 339 perimenopausal and postmenopausal women to one of three treatments: 0.5 milligrams a day of estrogen (in the form of estradiol), 75 milligrams a day of the antidepressant venlafaxine (a generic form of Effexor), or a placebo. Before the start of the study, all the women had had symptoms at least 14 times a week. Compared to the rate before the study — an average of 8.1 episodes a day — the frequency of hot flashes and night sweats declined by 52.9 percent in the estradiol group, 47.6 percent in the Effexor group, and 28.6 percent among those who took a placebo. Both Effexor and estradiol were effective treatments, but the study, published online in JAMA Internal Medicine, was not large enough to show that one was significantly better than the other. “Women have important choices of different medications to discuss with their doctors,” said the lead author, Dr. Hadine Joffe, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard. “They should know, as they think about these options, that both are effective.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 19673 - Posted: 05.31.2014
Lida Katsimpardi Could the elixir of youth be as simple as a protein found in young blood? In recent years, researchers studying mice found that giving old animals blood from young ones can reverse some signs of aging, and last year one team identified a growth factor in the blood that they think is partly responsible for the anti-aging effect on a specific tissue--the heart. Now that group has shown this same factor can also rejuvenate muscle and the brain. "This is the first demonstration of a rejuvenation factor" that is naturally produced, declines with age, and reverses aging in multiple tissues, says Harvard stem cell researcher Amy Wagers, who led efforts to isolate and study the protein. Independently, another team has found that simply injecting plasma from young mice into old mice can boost learning. The results build on a wave of studies in the last decade in which investigators sewed together the skins of two mice, joining their circulation systems, and studied the effects on various tissues. “It’s still a bit creepy for many people. At meetings, people talk about vampires,” says Stanford University neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray, who led the study of learning. But he, Wagers, and others think unease will give way to excitement. The new work, he says, “opens the possibility that we can try to isolate additional factors” from blood, “and they have effects on the whole body.” Hope and hype are high in the anti-aging research arena, and other researchers caution that the work is preliminary. “These are exciting papers,” but “it’s a starting point,” says neuroscientist Sally Temple of the Neural Stem Cell Institute in Rensselaer, NY. Adds Matthew Kaeberlein, a biologist who studies aging at the University of Washington, Seattle, “The therapeutic implications are profound if this mechanism holds true in people.” But that “is the million dollar question here, and that may take some time to figure out.” © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science
by Andy Coghlan A pregnancy hormone could prove a simple way to treat multiple sclerosis, after showing promise in a trial of 158 women with MS. MS is a neurological condition that results from damage to the brain and nerves inflicted by the body's own immune system. It affects 2.3 million people worldwide. Symptoms include extreme tiredness, blurred vision, muscle weakness and problems with balance and movement. The symptoms of women with MS tend to ease when they are pregnant, but worsen again after giving birth. This could be because of a hormone called oestriol, which is only produced in significant amounts during pregnancy. The hormone is thought to help suppress the mother's immune system to prevent it attacking the fetus. Fewer relapses Rhonda Voskuhl of the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues wondered whether giving oestriol to people with MS who aren't pregnant might also help with symptoms. They gave 8 milligrams of oestriol daily to 86 women with MS, along with their medication, Copaxone (glatiramer acetate). The women had the most common form of MS, called relapsing-remitting MS, which results in periodic flare-ups of symptoms followed by recovery. After one year, they had 47 per cent fewer relapses than a control group that took Copaxone and a placebo. After two years, the relapse rate was 32 per cent lower than the control group in the group given the hormone, suggesting the effects had plateaued. "We think the oestriol group had bottomed out, and there was nothing left to improve," Voskuhl said, as she presented the preliminary results at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia last week. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
A UBC neuroscientist says motherhood permanently alters the brain, exposing moms to different health risks than women without children. Liisa Galea, a professor in the university's psychology department, says some changes are temporary while others are permanent. The most obvious example is size. According to Galea, a mother's brain shrinks by up to eight per cent during pregnancy. While it bounces back about six months after birth, she notes the reaction could have repercussions. “Our research shows that, as a result of these transformations, mothers experience different cognitive abilities and health risks than women without children,” said Galea. And she warns that women who’ve borne children may even react to medication differently. “If mothers’ brains are different than other women’s brains, as our research finds, it means we must embrace greater personalization of medical care – not only for men versus women, but even among women with different life experiences,” she said. But that’s a challenge that may be insurmountable given that medical research studies at the animal model level have relied predominantly on the use of male rats. “Why would we assume that what works in a male rat automatically works in a female patient before testing it on a female rat?” questioned Galea. She claims one of the big failures of translational studies is that most fail to acknowledge how subjects’ gender, or other unique characteristics, like motherhood, plays a role. © CBC 2014
Guys, do you prefer more feminine faces? If so, chances are you grew up in a relatively healthy place. New research suggests that men raised in countries with higher average lifespans and lower child mortality more strongly prefer women with softer features than do men raised in less healthy nations. The finding bolsters the idea that years of human evolution have made men attracted to faces that could help them survive. Previous studies have found that women living in harsher conditions—such as communities with high homicide rates and low income—are more inclined to find more masculine men attractive. Urszula Marcinkowska, a biologist at the University of Turku in Finland, and her colleagues wanted to know whether culture also influenced males’ preferences for females, or whether men judged females in a more universal way. Using an online survey conducted in 16 different languages, the researchers presented 1972 heterosexual males between the ages of 18 and 24 from 28 different countries with 20 pairs of Caucasian female faces. Each pair contained one face with more feminine traits—such as larger eyes, fuller lips, and a less angular jaw—as well as a more androgynous face, with thinner lips and a wider chin. Participants were asked to select which face in each pair they found more sexually attractive. While men across all cultures generally preferred a more feminine face, the strength of that preference varied between countries. The difference couldn’t be explained by the ratio of men to women in a country, its gross national income, or the race of the participants, but it did correlate with the national health index of the men’s countries—a measure of overall well-being. Those from countries like Japan, with high national health index scores, chose the more feminine face more than three-quarters of the time, the authors report online today in Biology Letters. Men from countries such as Nepal, which has a lower health rating, selected the more feminine face in only slightly more than half of the cases, on average. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science
THAT health and beauty are linked is not in doubt. But it comes as something of a surprise that who is perceived as beautiful depends not only on the health of the person in question but also on the average level of health in the place where she lives. This, though, is the conclusion of a study just published in Biology Letters by Urszula Marcinkowska of the University of Turku, in Finland, and her colleagues—for Ms Marcinkowska has found that men in healthy countries think women with the most feminine faces are the prettiest whilst those in unhealthy places prefer more masculine-looking ones. Ms Marcinkowska came to this conclusion by showing nearly 2,000 men from 28 countries various versions of the same female faces, modified to look less or more feminine, and thus reflect the effects of different levels of oestrogen and testosterone. Oestrogen promotes features, such as large eyes and full lips, that are characteristically feminine. Testosterone promotes masculine features, such as wide faces and strong chins. As the chart shows, the correlation is remarkable—and statistical analysis shows it is unconnected with a country’s wealth or its ratio of men to women and thus the amount of choice available to men. The cause, though, is unclear. Previous studies have shown that women with feminine features are more fertile. A man’s preference for them is thus likely to enhance his reproductive success. Ms Marcinkowska speculates that testosterone-induced behavioural characteristics like dominance, which might be expected to correlate with masculine-looking faces even in women (they certainly do in men), help in the competition for resources needed to sustain children once they are born. But why that should be particularly important in an unhealthy country is unclear.
Combining the estrogen hormone estriol with Copaxone, a drug indicated for the treatment of patients with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS), may improve symptoms in patients with the disorder, according to preliminary results from a clinical study of 158 patients with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). The findings were presented today by Rhonda Voskuhl, M.D., from the University of California, Los Angeles, at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health; and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “While these results are encouraging, the results of this Phase II study should be considered preliminary as a larger study would be needed to know whether benefits outweigh the risks for persons affected by MS. At present, we cannot recommend estrogen as part of standard therapy for MS. We encourage patients to talk with their doctors before making any changes to their treatment plans,” said Walter Koroshetz, M.D., deputy director of NINDS. MS is an autoimmune disorder in which immune cells break down myelin, a protective covering that wraps around nerve cells. Loss of myelin results in pain, movement and balance problems as well as changes in cognitive ability. RRMS is the most common form of the disorder. Patients with RRMS experience relapses, or flare-ups, of neurological symptoms, followed by recovery periods during which the symptoms improve.
The hormone oxytocin appears to increase social behaviors in newborn rhesus monkeys, according to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the University of Parma in Italy, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The findings indicate that oxytocin is a promising candidate for new treatments for developmental disorders affecting social skills and bonding. Oxytocin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, is involved in labor and birth and in the production of breast milk. Studies have shown that oxytocin also plays a role in parental bonding, mating, and in social dynamics. Because of its possible involvement in social encounters, many researchers have suggested that oxytocin might be useful as a treatment for conditions affecting social behaviors, such as autism spectrum disorders. Although oxytocin has been shown to increase certain social behaviors in adults, before the current study it had not been shown to do so in primate infants of any species. Working with infant rhesus monkeys, the NIH researchers found that oxytocin increased two facial gestures associated with social interactions— one used by the monkeys themselves in certain social situations, the other in imitation of their human caregivers. “It was important to test whether oxytocin would promote social behaviors in infants in the same respects as it appears to promote social interaction among adults,” said the study’s first author, Elizabeth A. Simpson, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow of the University of Parma, conducting research in the Comparative Behavioral Genetics Section of the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “Our results indicate that oxytocin is a candidate for further studies on treating developmental disorders of social functioning.” The study was published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
By Karen Kaplan There are lies, damn lies – and the lies that we tell for the sake of others when we are under the influence of oxytocin. Researchers found that after a squirt of the so-called love hormone, volunteers lied more readily about their results in a game in order to benefit their team. Compared with control subjects who were given a placebo, those on oxytocin told more extreme lies and told them with less hesitation, according to a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Oxytocin is a brain hormone that is probably best known for its role in helping mothers bond with their newborns. In recent years, scientists have been examining its role in monogamy and in strengthening trust and empathy in social groups. Sometimes, doing what’s good for the group requires lying. (Think of parents who fake their addresses to get their kids into a better school.) A pair of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and the University of Amsterdam figured that oxytocin would play a role in this type of behavior, so they set up a series of experiments to test their hypothesis. The researchers designed a simple computer game that asked players to predict whether a virtual coin toss would wind up heads or tails. After seeing the outcome on a computer screen, players were asked to report whether their prediction was correct or not. In some cases, making the right prediction would earn a player’s team a small payment (the equivalent of about 40 cents). In other cases, a correct prediction would cost the team the same amount, and sometimes there was no payoff or cost. Los Angeles Times Copyright 2014
|By Meredith Knight Add another credential to oxytocin's impressive resume: the hormone crucial for bonding also reduces the calories people consume when they are snacking for pleasure, making it a possible therapeutic target for obesity. German researchers gave a group of men a dose of oxytocin thought to be roughly the amount released by the brain after breast-feeding or sex, according to lead author Manfred Hallschmid of the University of Tübingen. These men and another group who took a placebo then had a chance to eat as much as they wanted at a breakfast buffet, and later the same day they were offered snacks. Those who took oxytocin ate fewer snack calories, but the hormone did not change how much the men ate during the main meal, suggesting that oxytocin affected pleasure eating without suppressing normal appetite mechanisms. The researchers hypothesize that the hormone diminished reward-seeking behavior initiated in the ventral tegmental area of the brain, a region found to be highly sensitive to oxytocin in rodent studies. The effect may also be stress-related: subjects who took oxytocin saw a drop in their levels of the stress hormone cortisol, according to the paper published in 2013 in the journal Diabetes. More work is needed to understand whether oxytocin could be used to treat obesity, but until then the finding at least hints that it may be possible to curb your cravings by having more sex. © 2014 Scientific American
A hormone released during childbirth and sex could be used as a treatment for the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, scientists suggest. Small studies by UK and Korean scientists indicated patients were less likely to fixate on food and body image after a dose of oxytocin. About one in every 150 teenage girls in the UK are affected by the condition. The eating disorders charity Beat said the finding was a long way from becoming a useable treatment. Oxytocin is a hormone released naturally during bonding, including sex, childbirth and breastfeeding. It has already been suggested as a treatment for a range of psychiatric disorders, and has been shown to help lower social anxiety in people with autism. And one four-week study in Australia found people given doses of oxytocin had reduced weight and shape concerns. In the first of the most recent studies, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, 31 patients with anorexia and 33 people who did not have the condition were given either a dose of oxytocin, delivered via nasal spray, or a placebo, or dummy, treatment. They then looked at a series of images to do with a range high and low calorie foods and people of different body shapes and weight. People with anorexia have previously been found to focus for longer on images of overweight people and what they perceive as undesirable body shapes. However after taking oxytocin, patients with anorexia were less likely to focus on such "negative" images of food and fat body parts. The second study, published in PLOS ONE, involved the same people and looked at their reactions to facial expressions, such as anger, disgust or happiness. It has been suggested that anorexia can be linked to a heightened perception of threat, and animal research has shown oxytocin treatment lessened the amount of attention paid to threatening facial expressions. BBC © 2014