Oxytocin already does so much for our species. From making orgasms better to essentially getting us drunk without a hangover and perhaps even making us nicer people, the "cuddle hormone" has benefits that extend far beyond its evolutionary goal of mother-child bonding.
In fact, it might even help you lose weight while you try to satiate that other nagging appetite. New research undertaken by York University's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), is shedding fascinating light on how oxytocin affects our eating habits.
By homing in on the Oxytocin Receptor gene (OXTR), the gene that determines how our brain cells respond to oxytocin, the York team found that it not only has the ability to decrease appetite but also to help regulate binge eating.
Researchers made a group of sexually active participants—aged 27 to 50 with a "broad range" of body weights—fill out questionnaires about their reward sensitivity, punishment sensitivity, sugar/fat food preferences, and overeating habits. Then, using DNA blood sample analysis, they were able to uncover a "new" link between oxytocin and the complex behaviors associated with binge eating.
"Oxytocin enhances prosocial and related behaviors," Dr. Caroline Davis, the lead researcher on the study, said in a press statement. "On the other hand, increases in oxytocin tend to decrease appetite—especially the consumption of sweet carbohydrates."
By looking at single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), sites in our DNA which contain the instructions for producing oxytocin, the York team was able to isolate specific SNPs and their influence on eating. What the hell does that mean, you ask? Basically, certain participants were found to have the biological and personality traits for binge eating, and these were found to be directly influenced by oxytocin levels.
"Another SNP was directly related to overeating. These results support the role of genes in giving rise to traits that regulate behavior, and highlight the importance of oxytocin in overeating," Davis added.
If there is one surefire way to get more oxytocin in your system, it's by having sex. And while the scientists here did not measure a link between binge eating and sex per se, it's worth trying; at the very least, you'll burn a few calories.