Oxytocin is sometimes known as the "cuddle hormone" or the "love hormone" because it is released in the brain when people snuggle up or bond socially. A lack of the hormone may also be linked to low levels of empathy, according to a new study presented at the Society for Endocrinology's annual conference.

People suffering medical conditions causing low levels of oxytocin perform worse on empathy tasks, the study revealed. These findings suggest that hormone replacement could improve the psychological well-being of those living with low levels of the hormone.

Researchers from the University of Cardiff examined people with reduced oxytocin levels due to one of two medical conditions — cranial diabetes insipidus (CDI) and hypopituitarism (HP) — which are both caused as a result of pituitary surgery. Oxytocin is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body and is stimulated during sex, childbirth and breastfeeding.

The study assessed 20 people with CDI and 15 with HP who were asked to complete two tasks designed to test empathy. According to a statement, both tasks related to the recognition of emotional expression. Researchers also measured each group's oxytocin levels.

"This is the first study which looks at low oxytocin as a result of medical, as opposed to psychological, disorders," said lead researcher Katie Daughters, according to the statement. "If replicated, the results from our patient groups suggest it is also important to consider medical conditions carrying a risk of low oxytocin levels."

"Patients who have undergone pituitary surgery, and in particular those who have acquired CDI as a consequence, may present with lower oxytocin levels,” Daughters added. “This could impact on their emotional behaviour, and in turn affect their psychological well-being. Perhaps we should be considering the introduction of oxytocin level checks in these cases."

Read more:

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The Science Of Love: Is Falling In Love Possible Without Hormones Oxytocin, Serotonin, And Dopamine?