Could 'Cuddle Hormone' Hold The Key To Treating Autism?

14/08/2014 17:01 | Updated 20 May 2015

Mother breast feeding baby

Scientists believe the 'cuddle hormone' released during breastfeeding could help treat autism.

They believe that oxytocin, a hormone which is produced in the pituitary gland by women during pregnancy, while giving birth and in the production of breast milk, may have a significant impact on how babies interact.

Studies have shown that oxytocin also plays a role in parental bonding, mating, and in social dynamics.

Because of its possible involvement in social encounters, many researchers have suggested that oxytocin might be useful as a treatment for conditions affecting social behaviours, such as autism spectrum disorders.

American and Italian scientists tested the impact of inhaled oxytocin on baby monkeys in the first two weeks after birth and found that monkeys who were given the hormone were more likely to mimic the facial gestures of other monkeys and their human keepers.

The paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, monitored the ability of the young rhesus macaques to imitate two facial gestures associated with social interaction.

Those monkeys who inhaled a dose of oxytocin were more likely to adopt the gestures - lip smacking and tongue protrusion.

While the impact of oxytocin on adults and older children is well established, this is the first study to test the impact on newborn mammals.

Dr Elizabeth Simpson of the University of Parma said: "It was important to test whether oxytocin would promote social behaviours in infants in the same respects as it appears to promote social interaction among adults.

"Our results indicate that oxytocin is a candidate for further studies on treating developmental disorders of social functioning."

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