Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, behavioral problems, and poor communication. Autism typically manifests in early childhood and is slightly more common among boys than girls. Findings from a new study indicate that oxytocin may improve social interactions among men with autism.
Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary gland of the brain. It is an important chemical messenger that influences certain human behaviors as well as social interaction. Previous research has shown that an oxytocin nasal spray can improve some autistic behaviors in people with autism.
This double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial involved 40 adult men with autism who took 24 IU of intranasal oxytocin or a placebo once daily for four weeks. The participants (or their caregivers) completed questionnaires about their autistic behaviors at the beginning and end of the treatment and at four weeks and one year post-treatment.
Participants who took the oxytocin reported decreased repetitive behaviors and feelings of avoidance toward others, even at four weeks and one year post-treatment. Those who took the oxytocin also reported feeling more energetic, active, or lively than those who took the placebo.
Other studies have shown that levels of oxytocin vary significantly in children with and without autism and that children with low oxytocin levels have difficulties functioning socially. Children with the lowest levels of oxytocin at baseline were found to benefit the most from the treatment.
This was a pilot study, so more research is needed to determine the safety and therapeutic value of oxytocin administered via nasal spray for people with autism.