The gut hormone oxytocin involved in sex abuse
Sexual abuse may be linked to our must-have hormone oxytocin. This shows a study done by researchers at three Swedish universities. The discovery in the long term opens up new opportunities to treat patients who suffer from what is also called a hypersexual disorder.
Aggressiveness and antisocial behavior in young people will be treatable using the "feel good hormone" oxytocin. This indicates a new Swedish study with more than 3,500 young people, carried out by researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg. Oxytocin, which is secreted by touch and used by the body to initiate labor, has been recognized for its effects on prosocial behavior such as trust and empathy.
Hypersexual disorder or sexual abuse is characterized by obsessions about sex, loss of control, or sexual habits that cause potential problems or risks. But both the concept itself and how common it is is contentious. According to medical literature, 3-6 percent are sex addicts. At the same time, a survey on sexuality and health in Sweden from 1996 suggested that as many as 12 percents of men and 7 percent of women suffered from sexual abuse.
Counted as a separate diagnosis
Sexual abuse is now a different diagnosis and counted as an impulse control disorder. The current study has been done by researchers at Umeå and Uppsala University and the Karolinska Institutet and is published in the journal Epigenetics. Patients seeking sex abuse were found to have an effect on genes regulating the hormone oxytocin in the brain, which may cause elevated oxytocin levels.
Studied the gene expression The
researchers analyzed blood samples from 60 patients who applied for sex abuse at the special clinic ANOVA at Karolinska University Hospital. The blood samples were compared with a healthy control group of 33 individuals. What was mainly studied in the blood was the so-called DNA methylation in microRNA, which is involved in how genes are regulated and expressed. MicroRNA are short gene sequences that, among other things, regulate gene expression, that is, how much of a gene or protein is produced.
Found a suppressed protein
More than half of the protein-coding genes in humans are believed to be regulated by microRNAs. A single microRNA can theoretically regulate hundreds of different genes. Nearly 9,000 areas of DNA methylation related to microRNAs in the blood were analyzed. The researchers were then able to identify two microRNAs with altered function for DNA methylation in patients with sex abuse. An analysis revealed that a microRNA designed to target genes usually expressed at high levels in the brain – where it is thought to regulate the effects of the hormone oxytocin – was suppressed.
Differences can cause mental ill-health
The difference in DNA methylation between the patients and the control group was only 2.6 percent, which means that it is not yet possible to draw entirely certain conclusions. With reduced suppression, the result can be expected to be elevated levels of the gut hormone oxytocin, which will be the subject of future studies. However, there is much research to suggest that even minimal differences in methylation can have significant effects on complex conditions such as depression and schizophrenia.
Oxytocin fulfills many functions
Previous studies have also shown that oxytocin is involved in mating, reproduction, and aggressiveness in both men and women. In animal studies, oxytocin is linked to mating behavior of sores and certain primates, which, according to the researchers, makes the finding extra interesting from an evolutionary perspective.
Strengthening the link to addiction The
researchers also compared DNA methylation in blood between healthy individuals and from 24 alcohol-dependent individuals. Significant changes were then seen in the same DNA region in those with sexual abuse as in those with alcohol dependence. This suggests that it could primarily be linked to the addictive aspect of hypersexuality, such as coercion, impulsivity, and addiction.
According to the researchers, further research is needed to clarify the exact role of oxytocin in hypersexual disorder and how it is regulated. But the results suggest that it may be worth investigating whether drug therapy or psychotherapy can affect the oxytocin system in patients with sex abuse.