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Low Oxytocin Tied to Impaired Social-Emotional Function

Findings among women with a history of eating disorders

depressed woman

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 13, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Low oxytocin levels are related to a lack of emotional awareness in women with a history of anorexia nervosa (AN), according to a study published recently in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Cindy Schmelkin, M.D., from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues assessed fasting serum oxytocin levels in 79 women (19 who were less than 85 percent of ideal body weight [IBW] with AN, 26 who were 90 to 120 percent IBW with a history of AN, and 34 who were 90 to 120 percent IBW with no eating disorder history).

The researchers found that most measures of social-emotional functioning showed impairment in women with AN or a history of AN, versus those with no eating disorder history. In those with a history of AN, oxytocin levels were low, compared to women with no history. Low oxytocin levels were associated with difficulty identifying feelings (P = 0.008) and overall alexithymia (P = 0.0489) across groups.

"We speculate that low oxytocin levels may contribute to alexithymia in women with anorexia nervosa," the authors write.

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