Oxytocin: Promising Treatment for Autism Challenges
Treatment of autism with oxytocin
Autism is a term used to refer to a wide range of conditions characterized by challenges in verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviors, and social skills. It is also known as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As per the Centers for Disease Control, autism impacts approximately 1 out of 44 children in the United States today. Autism can be said to be one of the most concerning and growing problems affecting children. According to Autism Speaks, 1 in 54 children was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder as of 2020. The condition is more prevalent in boys than girls, with boys four times as likely to be diagnosed.
As you know that many subtypes of autism exist, most controlled by genetic and environmental factors. As autism is a spectrum disorder, every person suffering from it has particular strengths and challenges. How people with autism think and solve problems can be highly skilled or severely challenged. Some people with ASD may need increased support in their daily lives, while others may need less support. In fact, in some cases, people are entirely independent.
Multiple factors may influence the development of autism as it is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues like gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disorders, and mental health challenges, e.g., depression, attention issues, and anxiety.
The symptoms of autism usually become visible by the age of 2 or 3. Various development delays associated with autism can appear even earlier, as early as 18 months. Research proves that early intervention/diagnosis leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.
Due to the fact that underlying causes of autism are unclear and symptoms can be wide, its treatment has been limited to interventional therapy to enhance brain development, social skills, and other facets of the condition. However, a particular hormone, already produced in most people, may have a role in autism as a condition as well as its treatment. And this hormone is oxytocin.
We'll take a closer look at autism as a condition, how oxytocin may play a role, and why oxytocin treatment can help with certain symptoms of autism.
Understanding Oxytocin Deficiency and Autism
According to earlier research, oxytocin, a hormone closely related to social behavior, is usually lower in children with autism. Even though natural oxytocin levels can vary among all children, low oxytocin levels are linked with poor social performance and communication, which is particularly high in ASD. When oxytocin deficiency is considered, autism may not always be an absolute cause. Still, some studies have shown a correlation between a gene abnormality with ASD that could be directly related to not having enough oxytocin. Therefore, children with autism who have lower oxytocin levels may portray more deficiencies in social interaction.
A Closer Look At Oxytocin
Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that plays a part in several actions, including those related to human behavior. Often deemed the "love hormone," oxytocin is released automatically during labor, breastfeeding, and even after sex. This powerful brain messenger is directly responsible for creating feelings of connection with others. The hormone is believed to directly affect the following:
Studies and research have shown that women have inherently higher oxytocin levels than men, which is easy to consider as oxytocin is directly linked to reproduction, breastfeeding, and being a mother. However, when oxytocin is produced in the brain, it can affect both males' and females health' emotional behaviors, social behaviors, and cognitive functions.
How Does oxytocin help with ASD?
For several years, much effort has been brought to understand the complex characteristics of ASD and find treatments for the condition. Even though the symptoms of ASD can vary with respect to the type and severity, some of the most life-changing symptoms can be related to social deficiencies. Children with ASD usually struggle so much with social interactions that it hampers their ability to bond and establish meaningful relationships.
As oxytocin is considered a prosocial neuropeptide that enhances empathy and trust, oxytocin is continuously being examined for autism. Oxytocin may help one with:
- Reducing feelings of avoidance
- Reducing certain repetitive behavior
- Improving understanding of certain social cues
On the other hand, oxytocin has been investigated multiple times for its efficiency in treating symptoms related to anxiety. The results of those studies have been promising, even though more research needs to be done on a large-scale basis. Even though anxiety is not considered a core symptom associated with ASD, 40 percent of children with autism have elevated anxiety.
Research Behind Using Oxytocin For Autism
The research into oxytocin treatment for autism is still very limited, but many articles have found oxytocin to offer some potential as an obstacle for severe autistic symptoms:
- The outcome of a controlled trial in January 2020 involving 40 adult men with autism was published by Molecular Autism. Over four weeks, the participants were given either nasal oxytocin spray or a placebo. Results show improvements in social responsiveness in both groups. The group reported reductions in repetitive behavior and feelings of social avoidance given oxytocin.
- A study of 18 autistic males showed that continual oxytocin administration over six weeks improved social reciprocity scores. Social reciprocity refers to reciprocating emotional or social responses in situations with other people.
- A summary of randomized controlled trials of oxytocin and autism and how it impacted social cognition reported improvements in social cognition symptoms in 7 of the 11 persons. However, it was also noticed that the review yielded mixed reports on improvements in either restrictive or repetitive behaviors.
- While not as relevant, many animal studies have introduced the efficacy of oxytocin treatment for the social shortfall. For instance, a review published in 2015 found that treatment with oxytocin caused behavioral recovery in mice with symptoms similar to ASD.
Common Questions About Treating Autism Through Oxytocin
Are there any side effects of using oxytocin for autism?
Although research is limited and mostly small-scale studies have been performed, very few mention adverse reactions to the short-term use of oxytocin. Most participants in the experiments have had no major negative side effects with research involving intranasal oxytocin spray.
Who can receive oxytocin treatment?
Oxytocin treatment for autism may be worth a try for anyone, but it is thought to be most effective for autistic persons who have low levels of natural oxytocin. In one trial using nasal oxytocin spray, the children with the lowest levels of baseline oxytocin before the study seemed to experience the most improvements in their social behavior scores.
What forms is oxytocin available in?
Oxytocin is available in various forms, including a nasal oxytocin spray and sublingual tablet. Doctors use an intravenous form of oxytocin in many medical cases, such as the induction of labor. But, intravenous administration for anything other than labor induction is rare.
Is oxytocin safe to use in autistic children?
Oxytocin is supposed to be generally safe for use in children with autism. Although the treatment is not FDA-approved for autism yet, many healthcare providers are using oxytocin treatment for autism without reporting any associated negative reactions.
Where can you get oxytocin from?
Although oxytocin is available by prescription for certain conditions, it may be prescribed off-label for children with autism to help reduce its symptoms. The drug is available through compounding pharmacies, where it is tailored into intranasal sprays or sublingual tablets according to an individual's needs.
Harbor Compounding Pharmacy And Oxytocin Formulations
The early results of oxytocin and autism studies have been enlightening. At Harbor Compounding Pharmacy, we have successfully helped a number of patients obtain the prescriptions they need to relieve symptoms of autism. We can create oxytocin nasal spray and oxytocin sublingual tablets to deliver a precise neuropeptide dose. If you want to know more about oxytocin treatments, please reach out to us.