The endocrine system is up of various glands such as the hypothalamus gland, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, pineal gland etc..
Glands produce and secrete hormones - chemical substances that regulate the body's growth, metabolism (the physical and chemical processes of the body), and sexual development and function.
Hormones travel in your bloodstream to tissues or organs. They work slowly, over time, and affect many different processes, including growth and development, metabolism, sexual function and mood.
Some people think that the hormonal system in some autistic people does not work properly and this causes or worsens some of the symptoms of autism.
They also think that some of those problems can be overcome by regulating (changing) the amount and action of those hormones.
In some cases this means taking additional quantities of a specific hormone (such as melatonin). In some cases this means taking medications (such as leuprolide) to reduce the amount and effect of the hormones (such as testosterone).
The evidence for endochrine system medications is mixed. For example, research suggests that melatonin may provide some benefits for some autistic people. Secretin does not provide any benefits. There is insufficient research of sufficiently high quality to determine the benefits of oxytocin or gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists.
Many endocrine system medications contain active ingredients that can have strong effects on the mind and the body. For example, side effects with oxytocin are not common but may include: allergic reactions, difficulty urinating, chest pain or irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, confusion, sudden weight gain or excessive swelling, severe headache, rash, excessive vaginal bleeding, seizures. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists are very powerful drugs and are designed to change the hormonal balance in adults. Used on children or adolescents, they could cause disastrous and irreversible damage to sexual functioning.
Melatonin is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced by the pineal gland. Very small amounts of it are found in foods such as meats, grains, fruits and vegetables. You can also buy it as a supplement.
Melatonin is normally released soon after it starts to get dark. The amount produced then increases until about two to four in the morning, and then drops off again. Melatonin is involved in many functional processes including regulating the sleep-wake cycle.
Some people believe that melatonin regulation may be abnormal in some people on the autism spectrum, causing them severe sleep problems. Those sleep problems may include difficulties falling asleep and difficulties staying asleep.
Some people believe that some of those sleep problems can be overcome or reduced by taking melatonin supplements, sometimes as part of a comprehensive, multi-component treatment plan.`
Oxytocin is a hormone that causes the uterus to contract. It is used to induce labour, strengthen contractions during childbirth, and to control bleeding after childbirth.
Oxytocin also appears to play a key role in social behaviour and social understanding. For example, it helps to regulate sexual behaviour, mother-infant and adult-adult pair-bond formation and social memory/recognition. It has also been implicated in repetitive behaviours and stress reactivity.
Some people believe that individuals with autism, and a wide range of other conditions, have abnormal levels of oxytocin.
They also believe that some of the problems faced by those individuals can be treated by taking oxytocin, either by injecting or by inhaling it.
Secretin is a gastrointestinal hormone that helps to promote digestion of food.
It stimulates the stomach to produce the enzyme pepsin, the liver to produce bile, and the pancreas to produce digestive juices that help neutralize acidity in the intestines.
The main medical use of secretin is as a diagnostic tool in various disorders of the pancreas (such as gastrinoma).
Some people believe that secretin can be used to treat gastrointestinal problems (such as constipation and diarrhoea) in people on the autism spectrum. They also believe that treating those gastrointestinal problems will lead to improvements in other areas (such as sociability, speech, and sleep).
Testosterone is an androgen hormone which regulates the development of the male reproductive system and male secondary sex characteristics (such as facial hair).
Testosterone regulation involves using drugs called gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists to reduce the amount of testosterone in the body.
Testosterone regulation is normally used to treat people with one or more medical conditions including advanced prostate cancer, precocious puberty, endometriosis or anaemia caused by uterine fibroids.
Some researchers believe that some autistic people have too much testosterone and an excess of heavy metals in their bodies. They believe that testosterone regulation, used alongside other treatments, can help to reduce the amount of testosterone and heavy metals in the body.