Oxytocin Reduces Reward-Driven Food Intake in Humans

  1. Manfred Hallschmid6,7
  1. 1Department of Neuroendocrinology, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
  2. 2Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, U.K.
  3. 3Department of Internal Medicine I, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
  4. 4Laboratory for Biological and Personality Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  5. 5Freiburg Brain Imaging Center, University Medical Center, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  6. 6Department of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
  7. 7Institute for Diabetes Research and Metabolic Diseases of the Helmholtz Centre Munich at the University of Tübingen (Paul Langerhans Institute Tübingen), Tübingen, Germany.
  1. Corresponding author: Manfred Hallschmid, manfred.hallschmid{at}


Experiments in animals suggest that the neuropeptide oxytocin acts as an anorexigenic signal in the central nervous control of food intake. In humans, however, research has almost exclusively focused on the involvement of oxytocin in the regulation of social behavior. We investigated the effect of intranasal oxytocin on ingestion and metabolic function in healthy men. Food intake in the fasted state was examined 45 min after neuropeptide administration, followed by the assessment of olfaction and reward-driven snack intake in the absence of hunger. Energy expenditure was registered by indirect calorimetry, and blood was repeatedly sampled to determine concentrations of blood glucose and hormones. Oxytocin markedly reduced snack consumption, restraining, in particular, the intake of chocolate cookies by 25%. Oxytocin, moreover, attenuated basal and postprandial levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone and cortisol and curbed the meal-related rise in plasma glucose. Energy expenditure and hunger-driven food intake as well as olfactory function were not affected. Our results indicate that oxytocin, beyond its role in social bonding, regulates nonhomeostatic, reward-related energy intake, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, and the glucoregulatory response to food intake in humans. These effects can be assumed to converge with the psychosocial function of oxytocin and imply possible applications in the treatment of metabolic disorders.

  • Received April 25, 2013.
  • Accepted June 27, 2013.

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  1. Diabetes vol. 62 no. 10 3418-3425
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