The Effects of Oxytocin on Appetite Regulation, Food Intake and Metabolism in Humans

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jul 20;22(14):7737. doi: 10.3390/ijms22147737.


The hypothalamic peptide oxytocin and its receptor are involved in a range of physiological processes, including parturition, lactation, cell growth, wound healing, and social behavior. More recently, increasing evidence has established the effects of oxytocin on food intake, energy expenditure, and peripheral metabolism. In this review, we provide a comprehensive description of the central oxytocinergic system in which oxytocin acts to shape eating behavior and metabolism. Next, we discuss the peripheral beneficial effects oxytocin exerts on key metabolic organs, including suppression of visceral adipose tissue inflammation, skeletal muscle regeneration, and bone tissue mineralization. A brief summary of oxytocin actions learned from animal models is presented, showing that weight loss induced by chronic oxytocin treatment is related not only to its anorexigenic effects, but also to the resulting increase in energy expenditure and lipolysis. Following an in-depth discussion on the technical challenges related to endogenous oxytocin measurements in humans, we synthesize data related to the association between endogenous oxytocin levels, weight status, metabolic syndrome, and bone health. We then review clinical trials showing that in humans, acute oxytocin administration reduces food intake, attenuates fMRI activation of food motivation brain areas, and increases activation of self-control brain regions. Further strengthening the role of oxytocin in appetite regulation, we review conditions of hypothalamic insult and certain genetic pathologies associated with oxytocin depletion that present with hyperphagia, extreme weight gain, and poor metabolic profile. Intranasal oxytocin is currently being evaluated in human clinical trials to learn whether oxytocin-based therapeutics can be used to treat obesity and its associated sequela. At the end of this review, we address the fundamental challenges that remain in translating this line of research to clinical care.

Keywords: appetite regulation; body weight; energy expenditure; fMRI; food intake; metabolism; oxytocin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetite / drug effects*
  • Appetite Regulation / drug effects*
  • Eating / drug effects*
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / drug effects
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Motivation / drug effects
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology*
  • Oxytocin / therapeutic use*


  • Oxytocin