The hormone oxytocin may be able to play a role in treating psychiatric disorders like autism and schizophrenia. According to a review article in the September Harvard Review of Psychiaty, among other biological effects, oxytocin is “an important regulator of human social behaviors.” Oxytocin could be a useful treatment for certain mental health diagnoses, especially those with impaired social functioning.
Oxytocin for social behavior
Oxytocin is probably best known as the hormone that kick starts labor and breast milk production in women. It also plays an important role in regulating social behaviors. Dr. David Cochran of University of Massachusetts Medical School and colleagues found evidence of oxytocin’s involvement in “social decision making, evaluating, and responding to social stimuli, mediating social interactions, and forming social memories.” Now researchers suspect that oxytocin maybe a common factor in certain psychiatric disorders and there is some early research on oxytocin as a potential treatment for these conditions. Some studies have even found a dysfunction in oxytocin processing in some children with autism.
Possible treatment applications for oxytocin
Although studies are only in the early stages, some initial trials show that oxytocin may one day “be a useful treatment agent for improving some aspect of social cognition and for reducing repetitive behaviors” in people with autism. Studies of oxytocin and schizophrenia show mixed results. Associations are not as strong as for autism. Still, some studies have suggested that oxytocin might be a helpful treatment for patients with schizophrenia, with encouraging effects on severity and social cognition.
Ruling out its usefulness for some things
Because oxytocin is related to stress responses, studies have looked at its role in mood disorders and anxiety. But there is little evidence to support its use as a treatment for these conditions. It also does not seem useful as a treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder and borderline personality disorder.
Mostly for social functioning treatment
“The evidence suggests a role of oxytocin in the pathophysiology of some psychiatric disorders, particularly those characterized by impairments in social functioning,” said Dr. Cochran and coauthors. “However, the preliminary nature of the currently available data precludes a clear understanding of the exact nature of this role.”
So while oxytocin is indicated in many conditions, as a future treatment, its role is unclear. “Proper clinical trials are only recently being undertaken,” according to Dr. Cochran, these “should provide a better understanding of the extent and limitations of the clinical effects of externally delivered oxytocin.”
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Harvard Review of Psychiatry