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Decreased Nocturnal Oxytocin Levels in Anorexia Nervosa Are Associated With Low Bone Mineral Density and Fat Mass

Elizabeth A. Lawson, MD, MMSc; Daniel A. Donoho, BA; Justine I. Blum, BA; Erinne M. Meenaghan, NP; Madhusmita Misra, MD; David B. Herzog, MD; Patrick M. Sluss, PhD; Karen K. Miller, MD; and Anne Klibanski, MD

Published: August 9, 2011

Article Abstract

Objective: Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-induced starvation and associated with severe bone and fat loss. Oxytocin is a peptide hormone involved in appetite and energy homeostasis. Recent data show that oxytocin has an anabolic effect on bone and stimulates osteoblast function. There is limited information about oxytocin levels or their relationship to decreased bone mineral density in anorexia nervosa. Our objective was to investigate the relationship between oxytocin levels, bone mineral density, and body composition in women with anorexia nervosa.

Method: We studied 36 women, mean ± SEM age 27.6 ± 1.3 years: 17 with DSM-IV anorexia nervosa and 19 healthy controls in a cross-sectional study. Oxytocin levels were determined from pooled serum samples obtained every 20 minutes from 8 pm to 8 am during an inpatient overnight visit. Fasting leptin levels were measured. Bone mineral density at the anterior-posterior and lateral spine and hip and body composition were assessed by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry. The study was conducted from September 2004 to June 2008.

Results: Subjects with anorexia nervosa versus healthy controls had lower mean ± SEM oxytocin levels (14.3 ± 1.5 vs 31.8 ± 5.1 pg/mL, P = .003), leptin levels (2.7 ± 0.5 vs 11.4 ± 1.1 ng/mL, P < .0001), bone mineral density (anterior-posterior spine: 0.83 ± 0.02 vs 1.04 ± 0.03; lateral spine: 0.63 ± 0.02 vs 0.81 ± 0.02; total hip: 0.79 ± 0.03 vs 0.97 ± 0.03 g/cm2, P < .0001), and fat mass (8.8 ± 0.6 vs 19.7 ± 0.9 kg, P < .0001). Oxytocin levels were associated with bone mineral density at the anterior-posterior (r = 0.40, P = .02) and lateral (r = 0.36, P = .04) spine, fat mass (r = 0.42, P = .01), and leptin levels (r = 0.55, P = .001).

Conclusions: Overnight secretion of oxytocin in women with anorexia nervosa is decreased compared with healthy women. Low oxytocin levels are associated with decreased bone mineral density and body fat and may contribute to anorexia nervosa-induced bone loss.

J Clin Psychiatry

Submitted: October 5, 2010; accepted January 11, 2011.

Online ahead of print: August 9, 2011 (doi:10.4088/JCP.10m06617).

Corresponding author: Elizabeth A. Lawson, MD, MMSc, Neuroendocrine Unit, Bulfinch 457B, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA 02114 (

Volume: 72

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