Stress hormone fights fear of heights

March 29th, 2011 - 1:45 pm ICT by ANI  

London, March 29 (ANI): Does the mere thought of climbing a ladder or peering over a cliff sets your heart racing and palms sweating? Worry not, for scientists have come to the rescue with a pill to treat an irrational fear of heights.

The capsule - which contains the stress hormone cortisol - works with traditional therapy to help people forget what makes them frightened, reports the Daily Mail.

In tests, three sessions of treatment were enough to reduce panic caused by heights.

Fear of high places, or acrophobia, is one of the most common phobias. It can be treated by exposing people to heights, or by recreating the experience of being high up using virtual reality glasses.

However, the technique is rarely fully successful. The new method combines this “exposure therapy” with a dose of cortisol, the hormone released by the body in times of stress. The international team of scientists tested the effects of a cortisol pill on 40 people suffering from acrophobia.

Volunteers were either given cortisol or a placebo an hour before they

began exposure treatment.

At the end they were asked to gauge how scared they were using a questionnaire. Those taking cortisol were noticeably less fearful.

The effects were also lasting, with the volunteers still feeling less frightened a month after taking the pill.

The scientists believe that cortisol works by making people forget what they are scared of. It is thought to cut blood flow to regions of the brain that retrieve memories, leaving people unable to recall their phobia of heights.

The report has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. (ANI)

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