Skip 
Navigation Link
Autism
Resources
Basic InformationMore InformationLatest News
Maternal Multivitamin Use Tied to Lower Risk of Child ASDResearchers Learn More About Gender's Role in Autism RiskGenetics a Cause of Autism in Most Cases: StudyCould Folic Acid Fight a Cause of Autism?Does Autism Risk Reside in Cells' Energy Engines?Therapy for Kids With Autism Pays Off for Moms, DadsCan Scans Predict Some Autism Cases?Guidelines Developed for Art Therapy for Children With ASDAntidepressants in Pregnancy Tied to Slight Increase in AutismCan a Spritz of 'Love Hormone' Help Kids With Autism?Why People With Autism Avoid Eye ContactWhen is Tourette Syndrome Actually Autism?Study Cites Top Reasons Young Autism Patients Are HospitalizedFever During Pregnancy Tied to Autism in StudySpecial Brain Scans May Predict Autism in High-Risk BabiesBaby Teeth Study Points to Links Between Autism, Lead LevelsCommunication Problems Not at Root of Tantrums in Kids With AutismNo Proof Special Diets, Supplements Work for AutismCould a Century-Old Drug Help Ease Autism Symptoms?Autism's 'Worryingly' High Suicide Rates Spur ConferenceSpecial Diets, Supplements for Autism Still a Question MarkProdromal Intervention Effective for Infants at Risk of AutismProgram Helps Young Adults With Autism Find JobsTreat Autism Even Before Symptoms Show?Tracking Devices May Ease Minds of Parents of Kids With AutismYoung Adults With Autism Need Help Managing Money: StudyFDA Warns Against Bogus Autism 'Cures'1 in 3 Teens With Autism Licensed to Drive, Study Finds'Video Feedback' Program Might Help Treat Autism in BabiesMuppet With Autism Makes Her 'Sesame Street' DebutParents of Kids With Autism May Sacrifice 'Couples Time'Teens With Autism More Likely to Land in ER, Study FindsHigher Risk of Death From Injury Among Individuals With AutismAutism Greatly Boosts Kids' Injury Risk, Especially for DrowningCould a Blood Test Spot Autism in Childhood?MRI Can Identify Early Signs of ASD in High-Risk InfantsExperimental Test Can Spot Autism in InfancyBrain Differences Hint at Why Autism Is More Common in MalesU.S. Legislation Boosted Access to Autism Services, With No Added Cost to FamiliesObstetric Complications Tied to Slightly Upped Risk for AutismMicrobiota Transfer Therapy Could Help Children With AutismFecal Transplant Shows Early Promise Against AutismStress May Explain Digestive Issues in Kids With AutismNo Link for Maternal Flu Infection, Increased ASD RiskParent-Led Autism Therapy Shows Lasting BenefitsGuideline Changes Have Asperger's Community on Edge
Questions and AnswersLinksBook Reviews
Related Topics

Childhood Mental Disorders and Illnesses
Parenting

Can a Spritz of 'Love Hormone' Help Kids With Autism?

HealthDay News
by By Randy DotingaHealthDay Reporter
Updated: Jul 10th 2017

new article illustration

MONDAY, July 10, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Social skills of children with autism appeared to improve slightly after a nasal spritz of oxytocin, the so-called "love hormone," researchers report.

However, the study was small, and it's not clear if the typical improvement in "social responsiveness" was significant enough to be noticeable.

"I wouldn't throw a parade over it," said study lead author Karen Parker, a neuroscientist and associate professor at Stanford University.

But the findings point to avenues for future research, Parker said, especially because kids with the lowest levels of oxytocin in their bodies seemed to benefit the most.

"Better understanding the individual differences in the biology of patients may hold the key to critically assessing which patients the drug will benefit," she said.

Social difficulties and poor verbal communication are hallmarks of autism spectrum disorder. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, with 1 in 68 U.S. children exhibiting some form of autism. Currently, no approved medications are available to improve social functioning in these kids, the researchers said in background notes.

The hormone oxytocin has been linked to bonding between people, and it's believed to boost trust and empathy. Some studies in recent years have also linked it to better social skills, which has led some practitioners to recommend synthetic oxytocin as an autism treatment.

Autism researcher George Anderson estimated that perhaps 10 percent of parents of autistic kids have tried treating their children with oxytocin.

But Anderson, a senior research scientist with the Yale University Child Study Center, is skeptical of the new study's findings.

"It is not clear that oxytocin had any clinically significant effect," he said.

And Anderson is cautious in general about oxytocin research in people. Much of the research is iffy because scientists haven't been able to replicate it, he said. Also, most findings about human oxytocin levels have been debunked, he added.

The current study looked at 32 kids, aged 6-12, with autism. They were randomly assigned to use an oxytocin nasal spray or a placebo twice daily for four weeks. Blood tests measured their oxytocin levels at the study's start and conclusion.

At the beginning of the study, parents filled out a questionnaire about their kids' "social responsiveness." They were asked about the children's isolation levels, their understanding of the feelings of others, and their ability to express their own feelings.

Initially, the average score was about 106 points. The researchers said scores rose by an average of 10 points in kids who took oxytocin and about 3 points in the children who got the placebo. Researchers also found signs that the oxytocin treatment may have boosted production of the hormone in some kids.

These are small changes, however, and the study didn't actually prove that the nasal spray led to the improvements. Parker acknowledged that future research will need to tackle wider questions, such as, "are they making more friends, are they doing better socially, do the teachers notice a difference?"

The study reported no difference in reported side effects between the placebo and oxytocin, Parker said. As for cost, she said the oxytocin nasal spray was compounded at a pharmacy and cost about $100 a month.

How might oxytocin benefit these children?

"We know that it's involved in a lot of social behaviors in animals like the formation of social bonds," Parker said. "If you give it internally, it helps people understand emotion and other people's states of minds better."

The study appears July 10 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

For more about autism, visit Autism Speaks.