How Snorting Oxytocin Could Curb Our Impulsive Behavior

Nasal oxytocin spray helps overeaters control the urge to eat. Could it help curb our other self-destructive impulses too?

Maybe you couldn’t help but send that text to your ex, or maybe you compulsively scarfed down that fourth donut. Everyone’s felt that pang of regret after giving into impulsive behavior, yet it’s always tough to curb it the next time around. Now, your collapsing willpower has help, because there’s evidence a snortable hormone could fortify your restraint.

You’ve heard of oxytocin, even if you aren’t aware of it: Nicknamed the “cuddle chemical,” the “hug hormone,” and the “love drug,” the naturally occurring hormone is involved in postcoital snuggling, mother-baby bonding, and, among many other facets of human intimacy, great orgasms. Now, thanks to new research from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, we might be able to add curbing impulsive behavior to oxytocin’s resumé.

In a pilot study looking at the effects of oxytocin on impulsive eaters — ten overweight and obese men, specifically — the team discovered that snorting a synthetic oxytocin nasal spray curbed the need to give into the urge to eat by increasing self control. Presenting their studies at the 98th Annual Meeting of the Endocrine Society, the researchers explained their computer-based method: After training participants to hit a computer keyboard every time a visual symbol appeared, they flipped the game on them and told them not to respond to those symbols. Essentially, they were testing the ability to curb ingrained impulses — and participants who snorted oxytocin were a lot better at doing so than their saline-sniffing counterparts.

A model of an Oxitocin molecule.


Scientists have already known that oxytocin can help treat obesity – they just haven’t been sure how it worked. Europe has already jumped on the drug’s bandwagon, approving the Novartis-produced nasal spray to help control food intake and weight. But stateside, oxytocin is only available as an intravenous or injectable drug called Pitocin, which is used to induce labor, not boost self-control. Right now, the spray is only approved for clinical trials.

It seems that it’ll be a while before we’re snorting the stuff ahead of hitting up an open bar or sending off barrages of outrageous tweets — the study was only a small one, and focused only on men — but the results, at the very least, show promise for the compound’s ability to boost our self-control. Behavior linked to overeating is largely rooted in impulsivity; if the spray can help us say no to food, perhaps it could help us say no to our exes and Twitter, too.

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