The popular press frequently describes oxytocin as the “love” or “hug” hormone as it is associated with empathy, trust and emotional closeness. This article released today in Physiology and Behavior reviews the effect of oxytocin on appetite. Since it is a very small molecule (only 9 amino acids) it can easily be absorbed through different body membranes. When delivered as a nasal spray, it can move across the nasal membrane directly to the brain. Researchers have found that, delivered this way, it can have profound effects on appetite. Some studies have shown that it decreases the appetite for reward-driven eating, such as consuming chocolate cookies when you’re not really hungry. But oxytocin didn’t seem to have this same effect on appetite when people were in fact hungry, having gone 10 hours without eating. Obviously there need to be a lot more studies done, but this might mean that perhaps we could cut back on sweets if we got a few more hugs!
See abstract here.