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Will Oxytocin Nasal Spray Treatments for Autism Really Work?

Oxytocin Autism Treatment

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.

The Studies
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.

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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.

Now before you run out to your child’s doctor’s office begging for this ‘magic bullet’ there are a few things you should know. The University of New South Wales researchers did their own research study in 2013 using 38 boys ages 7-16 years. They conducted their study much like the pilot AutismSpeaks study. At the end of the study they concluded that there were no improvements in emotional recognition, social interaction skills, repetitive behaviors, or in general behavior with the use of the nasal spray. Also, as with most medicines, you must remember that there are side effects that come along with the use of Oxytocin Nasal Spray.

In Conclusion

While I am not nearly as thrilled about this treatment as I originally was I am still intrigued. I can’t wait to read the findings of the collaborative research study going on in the U.S. right now. I also can’t wait to see what these findings mean for the disorder that has affected my family’s life for a decade. Am I ready to start my son on this treatment? No! After all, we have had years of nothing really exciting happening as far as autism treatment methods. As expected, there definitely needs to be more research on Oxytocin Nasal Spray Treatments before we know if it works as claimed. Honestly though, as far as this author is concerned, it’s just nice to see some small advancement in this direction.

AutismSpeaks.com: Researchers Launch Study with Oxytocin Nasal Spray
AutismSpeaks.com: Study Provides New Clues to Oxytocin-Autism Connection

Other Autism Related Stories by Brooke Price



I'm a 67-year-old with high functioning autism. I began experimenting with oxytocin nasal spray about two years ago, mixing my own solutions at home (certainly not those silly oxytocin "trust" sprays peddled on the Internet). At first, I was absolutely amazed at the results. To me, it was like a miracle, I felt I could finally relate to others in a "human," relaxed and completely natural way. Nowadays, I don't use it so much and the effect is seemingly not so profound. I can only speculate as to the reasons why. Does one build up a tolerance level? Perhaps I "jump-started" my own natural oxytocin production? Perhaps it accelerated my social learning curve? Maybe I reached a plateau of sorts, following which came diminishing returns? I'm not saying that oxytocin would be good for anyone and everyone on the spectrum, but this should certainly be explored, I think it could work wonders for many.