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Secretin Therapy for Autism

written by: wendyppp • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 10/20/2010

Parents of autistic children are always looking for new treatments to help their offspring. Secretin made headlines a little over a decade ago as a possible treatment, but research is still inconclusive.

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    Every parent of an autistic child desperately wants a cure or treatment for a potentially devastating condition that can dramatically affect the lives of everyone in the family, none more so than the child who faces a world in which they are uncomfortable living in. For more than a decade parents and autism researchers have been looking to secretin for a possible cure.

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    What is Secretin?

    Secretin is a hormone, in fact the first hormone ever identified in the human body, and it stimulates the pancreas to produce secretions that regulate the acid/base balance in the lower digestive system. Secretin is also found in the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the cerebellum in the brain, and this provides the rationale that secretin could also treat the symptoms of autism. No one is really sure how secretin has worked in the anecdotal cases of improvement. Children with autism often have GI problems as well, and some scientists think that it is the gut-brain relationship that could cause secretin to work, but so far studies haven't reached this conclusion.

    Secretin therapy for autism can be administered either through injection or through a tube inserted through the nose, into the stomach and into the duodenum. It can also be delivered transdermally (through the skin) and this has been found to be most convenient when treating children. In Europe, secretin is used as a homeopathic remedy.

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    A "Miracle Cure?"

    While many parents cling to the “miracle cure" of secretin therapy for autism, the fact is that there is no conclusive scientific research to back up the anecdotal claims of recovery. According to a study published in the January 2009 issue of The Cochrane Library, secretin therapy for autism was not effective and did not produce improvement in any of the core features of autism. This report reviewed more than 13 previous studies that lasted from three to six weeks and evaluated single and multiple doses of secretin.

    The good news for hopeful parents is that secretin therapy for autism is relatively safe. No adverse side effects have been reported, which leaves the door open for parents and doctors to work together to determine if secretin therapy for autism could be used for their child. Since secretin is approved by the FDA and is used frequently to treat pancreatic deficiency, it leaves doctors free to use it on an “off label" basis, or to treat other conditions as they deem appropriate.

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    More Research

    All of the available information on secretin therapy for autism suggests that more controlled studies are required that evaluate the effectiveness of secretin in all possible scenarios. The Cochrane Library report suggests that studies may be more effective if methodological problems with the studies could be overcome, though the report does not specifically address what those problems are.

    Secretin therapy for autism offers hope to families of autistic children, but it’s important for parents to temper their hope with skepticism. A child’s response to secretin could range widely and will also depend on other medical problems that they might have. If nothing else, secretin could help with digestive problems, giving parents one less problem to worry about.