Oxytocin Deficiency’: Implications for the Food-Addiction Construct


Purpose of the Review

In this paper, an oxytocin-deficiency model is presented, which has considerable relevance for patterns of compulsive overeating as described by the food-addiction concept. Both animal research and human investigations are discussed in the context of individual differences in social perception and affiliation, reward processing, stress responsiveness, and eating and other addictive behaviors.

Recent Findings

The properties of oxytocin are well-established, indicating that low levels of this hormone are associated with increased food consumption, especially of sweet carbohydrates. Recent evidence suggests, however, that oxytocin has a “conditional” influence on eating and is moderated by various social and environmental conditions such as eating in social situations. Low oxytocin is also related to prosocial deficits including poor pair-bonding, diminished empathy, and a reduction in the rewarding properties of social contact. Oxytocin has also been linked to the increased risk for addictive substance use and abuse.


We propose that a proneness to stress, deficits in social interactions, and a sensitivity to addictive behaviors may render oxytocin-deficient individuals—who are already prone to overconsumption of sweet foods—at increased risk for developing addictive-like patterns of overeating.

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Correspondence to Caroline Davis.

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Dr. Caroline Davis and Elnaz Moghimi declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Davis, C., Moghimi, E. ‘Oxytocin Deficiency’: Implications for the Food-Addiction Construct. Curr Addict Rep 4, 158–164 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40429-017-0135-1

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  • Oxytocin
  • Reward sensitivity
  • Addictive behaviors
  • Food addiction