By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 30 March 2012)
Secretin is a hormone that plays a key role in regulating certain gastrointestinal functions and thus is important to healthy digestion. According to Research Autism (2011), the rationale for the use of secretin is that it aids proper digestion of food, which supposedly prevents harmful chemicals in undigested food reaching the brain.
Studies of Secretin’s Use for Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome
Secretin’s use for autism became widespread after a single case in which a mother noted significant improvements in her autistic child after its administration. Since then, numerous studies have failed to find any significant benefits from secretin use above those of a placebo (Barrett, 2004; Sturmey, 2005; WebPediatrics.com, 2010). Yet some parents swear by it, and it’s possible that it does have a positive impact in a few isolated cases, though this is by no means proven.
Autism Research Institute parent ratings for transdermal secretin’s use in treating autistic children indicated improvements in 37% of cases, no change in 53% of cases, and a worsening of symptoms in 10%. Intravenous secretin garnered slightly better ratings, with 44% seeing improvements, 49% no change, and 7% a worsening of symptoms.
Autism Research Institute parent ratings of secretin as an Asperger’s syndrome treatment indicated that 50% improved with transdermal secretin, but 50% saw no effect. Intravenous was rated slightly lower, with 44% seeing improvements, 50% no change, and 6% a worsening of symptoms.
Secretin Safety and Side Effects
Dr. Stephen Barrett (2004) notes that: “Questions have been raised about the safety of secretin injections. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, seven professionals who had autistic children expressed concerns that (a) since injectable secretin is extracted from pig intestines, repeated doses might cause the body to make antibodies to secretin; (b) smaller protein fragments in secretin preparations might trigger immune reactions; (c) the amino acid cysteine, which is used to stabilize the preparations, could cause other adverse effects.” According to Autism Research Review International (1998), some children have become more hyperactive or aggressive on secretin.
The position of Research Autism (2011) on this supplement is as follows: “The theory behind this intervention is weak and unproven. There is overwhelmingly strong research evidence to show that secretin is not effective in treating autism spectrum disorders. On the contrary there are some reports of negative effects in some studies. Because of this, we cannot recommend the use of secretin for people with autism.”
Other Autism Supplements
For more on the effectiveness of other supplements for treating autistic spectrum disorders, see the main Autism Supplements page. For a full list of articles on autism and Asperger’s syndrome, visit the main Autistic Spectrum Disorders page.
Always consult a qualified medical practitioner before taking supplements or giving them to your child. Many supplements are toxic at certain doses and may interact with some medications or create problems for people with certain medical conditions.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a doctor.
- “The Use of Secretin in Autism: Some Preliminary Answers.” Autism Research Review, 12(4), p. 3, Autism Research Institute, Autism.com.
- Autism Research Institute. (2008). “Parent Ratings for Autism” and “Parent Ratings for Asperger’s Syndrome.” Autism.com.
- Barrett, S., MD. (15 December 2004). “Secretin Found Ineffective for Treating Autism.” Quackwatch.org.
- National Institutes of Health, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (16 October 1998). “The Use of Secretin to Treat Autism.” NICHD.NIH.gov.
- Research Autism. (10 October 2011). “Secretin and Autism.” ResearchAutism.net.
- Sturmey P. (2005). “Secretin Is an Ineffective Treatment for Pervasive Developmental Disabilities: A Review of 15 Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trials.” Research in Developmental Disabilities, 26(1). pp. 87-97.