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No Real Benefit from Oxytocin Treatment for Autism

Aug. 21, 2013|565 views
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Yesterday I talked about a recent study that identified a possible link between the use of synthetic oxytocin during labor, and subsequent risk of autism. In related news, Australian researchers concluded recently that the hormone, which plays an important role in labor, breastfeeding and maternal/child bonding, is not particularly useful for the treatment of autism.


Because it plays a role in positive social and sexual interactions, oxytocin has been nicknamed the “love hormone,” or alternatively, the “trust hormone.” Autism researchers had hoped that giving the hormone in a nasal spray to autistic people might stimulate better social interaction behaviors. Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction and problems with verbal and nonverbal communication. Previous research sparked excitement among parents of autistic children, and parents around the globe have obtained oxytocin nasal spray for use on their children. Clinical trials are underway.


But new research by Australian researchers suggests the hormone may not work as many had hoped. “...Compared to a placebo, oxytocin did not significantly improve emotion recognition, social interaction skills, repetitive behaviors, or general behavioral adjustment,” said Professor Mark Dadds. Although the new findings contradict conclusions reported by some earlier studies, Dadds noted that the present study was larger than previous studies, and the treatment was given more than once. “The results of our much larger study suggest caution should be exercised in recommending nasal oxytocin as a general treatment for young people with autism,” said Dadds.


Anagnostou E, Soorya L, Chaplin W, Bartz J, Halpern D, Wasserman S, et al. Intranasal oxytocin versus placebo in the treatment of adults with autism spectrum disorders: a randomized controlled trial. Mol Autism. 2012 Dec 5;3(1):16. doi: 10.1186/2040-2392-3-16.


Dadds MR, Macdonald E, Cauchi A, Williams K, Levy F, Brennan J. Nasal Oxytocin for Social Deficits in Childhood Autism: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Autism Dev Disord. 2013 Jul 26. [Epub ahead of print]


Tags:  autism