Under the Hood

Sexual Appetite: Love Hormone Produced During Sex Decreases Appetite And Stops Binge Eating

You may have already heard sex can help you burn about 100 calories a session. But according to newly released research from the UK's York University, it could also stop you from overeating postcoitus. The findings, presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, may provide insight in the appetite-decreasing “love hormone” oxytocin.

The powerful hormone has been of interest to scientists for decades, since it appears to act as a neurotransmitter in the brain when released during kissing, hugging, breastfeeding, and, of course, sex. Previously, oxytocin has been shown to socially lubricate a situation by lowering stress levels and reinforcing the bond between two people. Because the hormone also initiates a feeling of reward within the brain, researchers were curious to see if it had any affect on binge eaters, who are suspected to have an abnormally wired reward system.

For the study, researchers recruited a group of sexually-active adults between the ages of 27 and 50, including those who also admitted to being habitual binge eaters. They asked the participants details about their eating habits, including preferences for certain types of foods, whether or not they preferred sugary treats to fatty indulgences, as well as how they responded to rewards and punishments.

Next, blood samples were collected from each participant so researchers could examine their DNA and see how the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) — responsible for determining how our cells respond to oxytocin — functioned. They also checked out if and how different variations of the gene influenced their appetite, food preferences, food intake, and personality traits that were linked to the brain's reward circuity.

Binge Eater Binge eaters may have to switch from food to sex in order to lose weight. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

As the researchers looked for potential links between certain personality types of the participants’ genes, a pattern emerged. The participants who had certain variations along their OXTR gene, called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), also had the personality traits for a serious binge eater. In particular, they found that three of the seven identified SNP variations in the OXTR gene could collectively explain 37 percent of the variation in a person's willingness to overeat. Another variation appeared directly related to overeating. 

“Oxytocin enhances prosocial and related behaviors,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Caroline Davis, a researcher at York University, in a statement. “Increases in oxytocin tend to decrease appetite — especially the consumption of sweet carbohydrates.”

Previous research has found people who stimulate romantic feelings help trigger increased levels of oxytocin within the brain, which also ups your feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which the brain translates as a reward. Because oxytocin is able to shift the focus away from the food you’re craving and onto another human being (preferably the one you’re sleeping with), finding ways to secrete more of it could help stop indulging and shed some extra pounds. This new preliminary research suggests that different individuals may respond to the flood of oxytocin differently, though, depending on their genes. Still, if you’re a binge eater with a bad habit, the next time you crave sweets, you may want to satiate your sexual cravings instead. It's at least worth a shot.

Davis and her team concluded: “These results support the role of genes in giving rise to traits that regulate behavior, and highlight the importance of oxytocin in overeating."

Source: Davis C, Kennedy J, and Moghimi E. Polymorphisms of the Oxytocin Receptor Gene (OXTR) and Overeating: The Mediating Role of Endophenotypic Risk Factors. Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior. 2016. 

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