Can Oxytocin Help Those With Autism and Aspergers Syndrome

October 13, 2012

I recently ran into a patient of mine at the local market. I inquired if she was still with her husband. She had expressed extreme dissatisfaction with him during the last few visits to my Evanston office, complaining he was completely selfish.

During the conversation at the market, my patient informed me that the behavior of her husband completely changed after trying oxytocin. An integrative behavior specialist in Missouri had suggested and prescribed it for him and it made a world of difference.

Oxytocin, (not to be confused with oxycontin, a narcotic) is considered the "love and attachment" hormone. For the most part, It is produced when we breast feed and during orgasm. It is produced at low levels otherwise. However, those with Aspergers and Autism have very low levels or mal-functioning production centers for this brain-targeted hormone.

Of late, there have been centers prescribing it for this patients population with reportedly good results. While I believe there needs to be some large scale studies, The risk of taking oxytocin is so low that it is worth the try.

Theoretically, I can see the risk being a new felt attachment to others and perhaps lack of experience in feeling "attached". From a health standpoint, there appears to be no drawbacks to replacing oxytocin levels to within normal limits to those who don't produce enough.

Certainly, replacement dosages of bio-identical oxytocin is safer than most of the prescription drugs many of this population is placed on. Specifically, the antidepressants and mood stabilizers that require liver detoxification and can reach toxic levels.

Oral oxytocin lasts only about 3 minutes in the blood stream before being degraded by the digestive tract. Most studies showing improvement in attachment and trust behaviors used intra-nasal administration.

Increasing trust and reducing fear. In a risky investment game, experimental subjects given nasally administered oxytocin displayed "the highest level of trust" twice as often as the control group. Subjects who were told that they were interacting with a computer showed no such reaction, leading to the conclusion that oxytocin was not merely affecting risk-aversion. Nasally administered oxytocin has also been reported to reduce fear, possibly by inhibiting the amygdala (which is thought to be responsible for fear responses).There is no conclusive evidence for access of oxytocin to the brain through intranasal administration, however.

Much like any bio-identical hormone, Oxytocin can not be patented. Therefore, no manufacturer is going to market it to the public or to medical professionals as anyone can produce it. Just as many patients with thyroid disorders fair better on Armour or naturally dessicated thyroid as opposed to a patented drug, there will be patients who improve on oxytocin.

In addition, I have many patients who are able to stop taking their psych meds when manipulate their neurotransmitters with amino acids.

Perhaps our growing population of children and young adults on the autism spectrum do not have to live a life feeling unattached to or fearful of those around them.