More Questions on Autism and Oxytocin

| by Val

Pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin, was used during my autistic daughter's delivery - more for convenience and not due to medical necessity. That was back in 1992. There have been recent questions about use of pitocin during delivery that don't get a lot of attention. There is the possibility that  a Perfect Neurodevelopmental Storm Correlates With Use Of Pitocin During Delivery. A document by Catherine Lisa Kurth, PhD  explains the correlation and implications in ADHD and even autism; she has worked thirty years as a psychotherapist - and for fifteen of those years she has tracked the clinical pattern for justifying her questions about use of pitocin.

Bigger attention is recently given to a oxytocin as a possible treatment for teaching social intelligence to those affected with high functioning autism. Knowing the long term mostly acceptable outcome of those affected with high functioning autism, I question why anyone would want to introduce a treatment that still has many more questions than answers.

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Oxytocin and cortisol interact. What is already known, is that low cortisol levels seem to be present in Asperger's individuals. Levels of cortisol usually fluctuate in everyone, but Asperger's individuals do not experience the normal twofold increase of cortisol upon waking up. Levels of the hormone in their bodies do continue to decrease throughout the day, though, just as they do in those without the syndrome (according to USN).

What isn't emphasized in most reporting is that the effect of oxytocin's use is that of attenuation of cortisol levels. The subject can be found as an aside in many documents; one of those is Social Support and Oxytocin Interact to Suppress Cortisol and Objective Responses to Psychological Stress. This effect becomes concerning if one considers already low levels of cortisol detected in Asperger's individuals. What is the overall effect of too little cortisol over time? I know that in Addison's Disease, the adrenals cannot produce enough cortisol. Will utilization of oxytocin create a problem for those with Asperger's, giving them symptoms of Addison's Disease, rare as it is?

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Memory impairment is also alluded to with regard to administration of oxytocin. That can be found in Selective Amnesic Effects of Oxytocin on Human Memory. This might be concerning, and would depend on what types of memory are affected and if the effect would diminish the potential for learning.

There is a wide range of possibilities with regard to oxytocin, cortisol and their actions. There is a lot to show the very complicated nature of how hormones function or react under the differing scenarios. Considerations of Plasma Oxytocin in Children with Recurrent Abdominal Pain points out some of the actions of cortisol and oxyocin when pain of organic cause, and psychosomatic origin are present. It presents a bigger target, as far as potential for finding answers - when it points out that...The amygdala, the center of stress regulation and of hypothalamic hormone secretion, could well be the governing center controlling the output of both oxytocin and CRF-ACTH-cortisol.

The amygdala governs secretions of oxytocin and cortisol in order to regulate stress, as part of an overall hypothalamic hormone secretion process. The hypothalamus is the great and mighty oz behind the curtain of the pituitary gland. Is there a scenario where a portion of those within the autism spectrum have always had insufficient levels of both oxytocin and cortisol, hormones controlled by the pituitary gland? What do the symptoms of low oxytocin and low cortisol indicate for those within even the normal population?

Some feel that 2 to 3 deficient pituitary hormones indicate hypopituitarism. Normal testing doesn't catch all such deficiencies. Even those who have studied oxytocin have noted the difficulties about determining oxytocin levels. Identifying hormone deficiencies and then treating them is seemingly the impossible dream. There is not an actual cure for hypopituitarism, only varied types of treatments.

Not only have oxytocin and cortisol been studied in autism as having atypical presence or effect, so has vasopressin. Scent research could help autism understanding points out that..."Some studies, including ours, suggest that when the vasopressin system in the brain is not working properly, it may prevent people from forming deep emotional bonds with other individuals or might underlie conditions such as autism and social phobia."

Many are looking into genetic factors as a cause for lack of proper hormone function. What is happening in the mother's hormonal world affects the hormonal programming of the offspring. From Fetal programming of hypotalamo-pituitary-adrenal function: prenatal stress and glucocorticoids - Prenatal stress (PS) and maternal exposure to exogenous glucocorticoids can lead to permanent modification of hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function and stress-related behaviour. Both of these manipulations lead to increased fetal exposure to glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids are essential for many aspects of normal brain development, but exposure of the fetal brain to an excess of glucocorticoids can have life-long effects on neuroendocrine function.

Additionally, this source ( indicates that environmental stress that might cause malfunction of glucocorticoid programming for offspring. Per source: These data indicate that maternal ethanol administration leads to excessively increased maternal cortisol concentration that can impact negatively the developing foetal brain, leading to persistent postnatal deficits in glucocorticoid regulation of glutamate signaling in the adult hippocampus.

Things that cause elevated levels of cortisol in the mother, seem to have consequences for offspring. When I consider the vast array of possibilites for the increase in cortisol , and how more then one causal agent can factor in to any expecting mother's experience - I come close to losing hope! Psychorg points out the following in Stress during pregnancy has detrimental effect on offspring. Per that source: Stress during pregnancy can have unfortunate consequences for children born under those conditions – slower development, learning and attention difficulties, anxiety and depressive symptoms and possibly even autism.

The hormonal dance is a complicated one, and so the manipulations we consider engaging upon need to make sense. Cortisol and oxytocin have important interactions that seem to be unimportant to some - while they offer the idea of oxytocin treatment for the high functioning form of autism.

There are implications behind being treated with constant levels of synthetic glucocorticoids. The dynamic interaction between naturally occurring glucocorticoids and their receptor are important for biologically appropriate regulation of target gene expression. (From The Ups and Downs of Glucocorticoid Signaling) - the need to find ways of effectively mimicking natural glucocorticoid activity is alluded to in order that it may help avoid the side effects experienced by patients being treated for cancer, arthritis, and other disorders.

As an aside - My own daughter, Sarah, has clinically presented with Hashimoto's Thyroditis indicators - and so we keep an eye on it. But as her own Dr. Wells had pointed out years ago - there is just so little understood about hormones. Sarah is seventeen years old and presented with severe autism at age three, which was mediated upon wonderfully with good result. But then she worsened with what looked like schizophrenia at age ten. That worsening was refractory to treatments for several years, but eventually leveled off a bit. She now attends public school with a great team of teachers. Her story can be found on scribd, at no cost - it is called Hello Dr. Wells.