The Neuropeptide Hormone Oxytocin in Eating Disorders

Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2018 Sep 4;20(10):91. doi: 10.1007/s11920-018-0957-0.


Purpose of review: The neurohormone oxytocin (OXT) impacts food intake as well as cognitive, emotional, and social functioning-all of which are central to eating disorder (ED) pathology across the weight spectrum. Here, we review findings on endogenous OXT levels and their relationship to ED pathology, the impact of exogenous OXT on mechanisms that drive ED presentation and chronicity, and the potential role of genetic predispositions in the OXT-ED link.

Recent findings: Current findings suggest a role of the OXT system in the pathophysiology of anorexia nervosa. In individuals with bulimia nervosa, endogenous OXT levels were comparable to those of healthy controls, and exogenous OXT reduced food intake. Studies in other ED are lacking. However, genetic studies suggest a broad role of the OXT system in influencing ED pathology. Highlighting findings on why OXT represents a potential biomarker of and treatment target for ED, we advocate for a systematic research approach spanning the entire ED spectrum.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; Binge eating; Bulimia nervosa; Eating disorders; Food intake; Oxytocin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anorexia Nervosa / metabolism
  • Body Weight
  • Bulimia Nervosa / metabolism
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism*
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*


  • Neuropeptides
  • Oxytocin