Linking Metabolic Health, Psychiatric Disease, and Oxytocin Levels

VA researchers explore the possible link between oxytocin levels, mental health risk, and metabolic health rates among a “unique population” lacking research data.


African American men with diabetes may be at risk for significantly low levels of oxytocin (OT), according to a study of 92 veterans by researchers from the Jesse Brown Veterans Administration Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. Research has recently been revealing oxytocin’s role in energy homeostasis; OT derangements have also been implicated in a variety of diseases, including schizophrenia, autism, dysthymia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The researchers note that their study participants represent a “unique population” of African American male veterans for whom no data on OT levels exist in the literature. The population has a disproportionately high rate of obesity and dysglycemia, as well as high rates of comorbid psychiatric disease.

In the study, urinary oxytocin was higher in men with lower weight, body mass index (BMI), and hemoglobin A 1c and better renal function. Men with the highest levels of oxytocin were about 80% less likely to have type 2 diabetes. The researchers say several studies have appeared to show that intranasal OT may reduce reward-driven food intake, and that OT administration may result in weight reduction.

Men with high oxytocin levels were 4 times more likely to be using psychiatric medications. Although there was no difference in psychiatric conditions based on OT levels, the use of psychiatric medications remained significant after adjustment for BMI. The influence of psychiatric medications on oxytocinergic systems is not well understood, the researchers say. However, they add that medication-related improved psychological health outcome might result in OT changes.

Men with high oxytocin levels were also 4 times more likely to be smokers. The researchers note that chronic administration of nicotine seems to upregulate OT receptor binding in regions of the brain involved in stress and emotion regulation, and these neuro-adaptations likely influence nicotine-seeking behavior. Intranasal OT is being investigated for smoking cessation.

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