Will Oxytocin Nasal Spray Treatments for Autism Really Work?
About a year ago I first heard of a collaborative study aimed at seeing if an Oxytocin Nasal Spray would work in targeting the “core symptoms” of autism. The very mention of a potentially better treatment method sent this author into full blown excitement. When I started looking more into the treatment I became unusually enthused, as well as somewhat intrigued.
Said study was launched in 2013 with help from a $12.6 million dollar grant from the U.S. Government [NIH specifically]. SOARS-B [Study of Oxytocin in Autism to improve Reciprocal Social Behaviors] is based out of:
• The University of North Carolina ASPIRE program, in Chapel Hill and Durham
• The Lurie Center for Autism at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
• Seaver Autism Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York
• Seattle Children’s Research Institute
• The Vanderbilt Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders in Nashville.
The study is said to be following 300 autistic children. During which half of the children are given the Oxytocin Nasal Spray and the other half a placebo. This happens for ½ the life of the study. The second ½ of the study all the children are given the Oxytocin Treatment. The results of this study have yet to be published. However I, personally, found how a great deal of these oxytocin studies came to be funded just as interesting as the studies themselves.
Studying the effects of oxytocin on an autistic individual has been a large point of interest for some time now. A great deal of the money being handed out to do these studies is coming from one source, AutismSpeaks. In 2008 AutismSpeaks gave a $378,871 grant to Hebrew University in Jerusalem to look into the effect of oxytocin levels in a mother prior to birth as well as the effects that synthetic oxytocin [Pitocin] on an infant as well as it’s overall correlation to autism. In 2010 AutismSpeaks funded the very first “pilot” Oxytocin Nasal Spray study targeted at following 25 autistic youths for 8 weeks. AutismSpeaks gave the University of North Carolina a grant for $119, 999 to complete this study. This pilot study is what led to the government grant that allowed for the large case study we are all currently waiting on results from. In the years since AutismSpeaks has funded several other studies surrounding the use of Oxytocin, all with seemingly positive results.
One such 2012 Stanford University study proved to be extremely valuable. In this study they were able to make a correlation between Oxytocin and Serotonin levels in the brain. They were also able to effectively show that oxytocin influences the levels of serotonin seen. That oxytocin actually acts much like an antidepressant does. It increased amounts of serotonin present in the brain.
The Stanford team was also able to show that oxytocin increased serotonin levels specifically in the brain’s nucleus accumbens. This led them to the conclusion that the relations between oxytocin and serotonin could be fundamental in making social interactions enjoyable for an autistic individual.
"There are at least 14 different subtypes of serotonin receptor [in the brain]. We've identified one as being important for social reward. Drugs that selectively act on this receptor aren't clinically available. But our study may encourage researchers to start looking at drugs that target it for the treatment of disorders such as autism." said lead researcher Gül Dölen.
The Claims of Oxytocin Studies
Scientist who support the Oxytocin claims say that using this hormone on our children will increase their ability to recognize emotions in others. That it helps with repetitive behaviors, social memory, and it, overall, helps their whole emotional process. The claim is that these responses are seen in Autistic children as well as in Schizophrenic patients and patients with Social Anxiety Disorder, sometimes within as little as 3 weeks of treatment. These scientist and doctors are so confident that they say Oxytocin Nasal Spray Treatment addresses the “core symptoms’ of Autism.