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A hormonal nasal spray could provide health benefits to those with mental illness and autism

A new hormonal medication appears to be more effective if used intranasally instead of orally and intravenously, at least for some medical conditions.


The hormone oxytocin is released in the brain during intimacy and social bonding, and it increases neuronal signals that help with facial expression recognition when depicting different emotions.

New research, published in the journal Transational Psychiatry is suggesting that those who suffer conditions such as autism and schizophrenia could benefit from receiving more oxytocin, and rather than with an oral form, nasal spray would be much faster acting and less invasive than receiving the hormone intravenously.

The researchers from the University of Oslo in Norway teamed up with Yardley, Pennsylvania-based OptiNose to test the company’s device.

Forbes went into how the clinical trial was designed:

The trial enrolled 16 healthy adult volunteers and evaluated two different doses of oxytocin and their effect on how social signals are perceived. Each of the men underwent four, single-dose treatments: a placebo, a low dose of oxytocin, a high dose of oxytocin and an intravenous dose of oxytocin. The intravenous dose was used to compare the effects of oxytocin in circulating blood. After each dose, participants were then presented with 20 male and 20 female faces displaying angry, happy and emotionally ambiguous expressions and were asked to identify how angry or happy the people seemed.

Dosage will be a very important part of this potential treatment, though. University of Oslo professor and study author Ole Andreassen said in a statement, “Very high doses of oxytocin could, in fact, have the opposite effect on social behavior.”

More research needs to be done in order to determine how effective this is for those with mental illness. But one things that’s interesting is last year, Stanford researchers published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found that children with autism were no more likely than other kids to have low levels of oxytocin in the blood. So who really knows how or if this treatment will help.