Hate the “love handle”? Use the “love drug”!
Do you love the “love handle”? Although it has a cute name, you may still try to get rid of it. Recently scientists found that the “love drug” has the potential to help people lose weight. Will it come true?
What is the “love drug”?
It is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter in the brain, academic name “Oxytocin”. The reason for being named “love drug” is that it not only plays an essential role in physiological behaviours which involve “love”, including sexual reproduction, childbirth, and breastfeeding, but also helps people build social bonding like affection and trust.
The “love drug” reduces appetite!
Obese people tend to eat more even when they are not hungry. Their brain has a higher level of reaction when seeing delicious food. This is the inspiration for conducting studies on the relationship between oxytocin and weight loss. If there is one medication that can reduce appetite, then it has the opportunity to help people lose weight!
Will the “love drug” be that medication?
In several studies, scientists used intranasal oxytocin on overweight and obese participants and measured their brain reaction using fMRI. The activity of the regions of the brain involved in eating was lower compared with using a placebo. This result indicated that oxytocin has the potential to reduce people’s desire for food.
Other effects that the “love drug” has
The “love drug” does not only reduce appetite; it helps lose weight in other ways.
Oxytocin has a synergic effect on insulin – it improves insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a peptide hormone that regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. The positive synergic effect of oxytocin on insulin helps improve the balance of energy intake and consumption, which may result in weight loss.
Besides, oxytocin reduces activation in the hypothalamus. Hypothalamus is an “information processing centre” in the brain. It has two nerve nucleus that help control eating behaviour. Once the activation of the hypothalamus drops, people may not feel hungry quickly.
A study this year also shows that oxytocin reduces alcoholic’s dependence on alcohol. Alcohol is known to have a strong effect on people’s gaining weight. The experiment was conducted on alcohol-dependent rats. The rats showed a reduced addictive behaviour to alcohol, which indicates the oxytocin is a potential remedy for alcohol addiction.
Why don’t we use it now?
Studies on this topic haven’t collected enough evidence. Such a small sample size is not convincing enough. Also, although oxytocin has so many benefits, its adverse effects and side effects can not be underestimated. Therefore, before the drug approved into the market, we should still wait for the strict clinical trials.
There are many reasons for obesity. Even if oxytocin works, it may work only on some of the obese people. The treatment for obesity should better be individualized. Oxytocin will not be the Panacea.
There is also a phycological concern about oxytocin. We have already had experiences that some drugs which were invented for releasing pain or enhancing happiness had an addictive effect, like morphine and endorphins. Oxytocin may also cause a phycological dependence on it if used in the long term.
It seems that getting rid of the “love handle” would not be that easy. Losing weight by simply taking medicine may not come true within decades.
Brendan J. Tunstall et al. Oxytocin blocks enhanced motivation for alcohol in alcohol dependence and blocks alcohol effects on GABAergic transmission in the central amygdala. PLOS Biology, 2019; 17 (4): e200642.