Q: I heard there’s an oxytocin nasal spray that can help my autistic nephew become more socially at ease. Is that true? And where can I get it? — Maria F., Harrisburg, Pa.
A: The nasal spray you are referring to is a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Women have major oxytocin surges from sex and breastfeeding, and although men get a smaller dose from sex, research indicates that it makes them more inclined to monogamy.
A recent study did show that children with autism who were given a single dose had changes in their brain activity and behavior. However, researchers didn’t find out if a single dose has lasting effects on social behavior or if more than one dose is safe. But a larger study called SOARS-B (Study of Oxytocin in Autism to Improve Reciprocal Social Behaviors) is under way. It may answer these questions. Until then, no one should be giving kids with autism this hormone. In fact, because every case of autism is highly individual, your nephew should be given medication and therapy only with proper medical supervision or through participation in a clinical trial.
What does improve outcomes is early intervention that tailors support and behavioral therapy to each autistic child’s needs. Autism is a complex neurological disorder and can co-exist with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and cause difficulty integrating sight and sound, hyper nerve sensitivity and anxiety. Elements within this array of deficits may present themselves at different levels at different times during a person’s life and can change depending on the environment. That’s why these days we refer to autism as autism spectrum disorder.
But we understand why you’re interested in oxytocin: Treatment for ASD is only somewhat effective — there’s no cure.
— Drs. Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen