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    Now, a pill to overcome fear of heights

    London: Giving people a tablet of the stress hormone cortisol can help reduce their fear of heights.

    The hormone, which is part of the body's "fight or flight" reaction to danger, appears to open the brain up to being reprogrammed and to permanently remove anxieties.

    Tests on 40 patients with acrophobia - a fear of high places and edges - found those given cortisol in combination with behavioural therapy dramatically reduced their aversion.

    Acrophobia triggers a sense of panic when at height and is not the same as vertigo that causes a feeling of spinning and dizziness.

    The researchers said their findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could lead to the development of effective treatments for a host of anxiety disorders.

    Half the participants were given the drug and the others a placebo an hour before being subjected to a virtual-reality outdoor elevator ride, the Telegraph reports.

    Their fear was measured three to five days and one month after the last exposure session through an established acrophobia questionnaire and by sensors that picked up their sweat known as skin conductance examinations.

    Compared with those given the dummy pill, participants who took cortisol suffered significantly less anxiety and a smaller increase in skin conductance during follow-up.

    Dominique De Quervain, neuroscientist at Basel University in Switzerland, and colleagues said this suggests cortisol can enhance "exposure therapy" to reduce fear of heights.

    Researchers said: "Adding cortisol to exposure therapy resulted in a significantly greater reduction in fear of heights as measured with the acrophobia questionnaire both at post-treatment and at follow-up, compared with placebo."