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Scientists Test 'Trust' Hormone for Autism Fight - featured January 4, 2011

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[Source: NPR]

For decades, parents of children with autism have been searching for a drug or diet to treat the disorder.

Their latest hope is the hormone oxytocin. It's often called the trust hormone or the cuddle hormone. And just to be clear, it has nothing to do with the narcotic oxycontin.

But some children with autism are already being treated with oxytocin, even though it's not approved for this purpose.

The Trust Hormone

It's no wonder parents of children with autism have high hopes for oxytocin. So do a lot of researchers, like Jennifer Bartz at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

"I think it definitely has promise ... and that's why we're studying it," Bartz says.

The body releases oxytocin to produce contractions during labor and lactation in nursing mothers. Doctors also give it to help with childbirth. A few years ago, researchers realized that oxytocin also affects the brain.

Bartz says a dose given in a nasal spray seems to promote feelings of trust and empathy and bonding in both men and women. Those same feelings are often impaired in people with autism.

"Autism is associated with deficits in social cognition and social functioning," Bartz says. "People have thought, 'Well, perhaps oxytocin might be a good treatment for those deficits in autism.'"

Read the Rest of this Article (or Listen to the Podcast) on NPR.org


Tags: News of the Week Autism Newsletter 7 January 2011