The search for effective treatments for autistic disorder run the gamut from behavioral interventions to biomedical applications. Among the biomedical treatments for autism is secretin therapy, an approach that may have lackluster results.
Theory of Secretin Therapy for Autism
Understanding the problems with brain function, which occurs as a result of gastrointestinal conditions is important in relation to secretin therapy for autism. Secretin is one of the hormones that controls digestion and its primary function relates to the pancreas. In theory, regulating and repairing the digestive system in individuals on the spectrum can improve behavior and lessen the symptoms of autism.
Individuals who stick to a casein and gluten free diet may do so to rectify problems in the digestive system (leaky gut). Since secretin is an agent that can affect the pancreas, some believe that secretin injections may create enzymes that improve the digestive functioning. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug for treating pancreatic insufficiency, but not for treating autistic disorders.
Studies, Criticism and Precautions
Weighing the pros and cons is important, and it is a quick process in the case of secretin therapy for autism. The Defeat Autism Now (DAN) protocol may include secretin therapy, but the practice doesn't appear to be popular among those who believe in biomedical treatments.
The Cochrane Review summary, Intravenous Secretin for Autism Spectrum Disorder, reports on 14 studies on autism and secretin therapy. It looked at five important factors that patients should consider before adopting the approach.
- How effective is the treatment in improving the fundamental symptoms of autism?
- Does it improve behaviors that are not part of a spectrum diagnosis (self injurious behaviors, for example)?
- Can it improve quality of life?
- Does it have short term or long term effects?
- Is the treatment harmful?
The review finds no evidence that secretin therapy for autism is effective, and it does not recommend the treatment. The studies the Cochrane Review examined do not show that the treatment improves the core features of autistic disorders, which means that there is no evidence that the procedure actually works. The fourteen studies show that secretin is ineffective.
The Association for Science in Autism Treatment
The Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) lists various treatments for autistic disorders, including secretin. The ASAT states that this treatment is not useful in treating autistic disorders, and it notes the Cochrane Database's review as reference. Secretin therapy is not an evidence-based treatment for autistic disorders and is therefore among the ASAT's list of questionable and unproven approaches.
See a Doctor
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved secretin to treat gastrointestinal problems related to poor pancreatic functioning, but not as a viable treatment for autism. Doctors who prescribe the hormone to treat autistic disorders are using an "off label" prescription that is not approved by the FDA.
Getting the proper treatment for autistic disorder is of the utmost importance. Discuss biomedical treatments with a physician before delving into a particular approach. Behavioral programs are effective in helping individuals on the spectrum, and it is not good practice to replace evidence-based approaches with experimental procedures.