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).
The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) made the following recommendation.
'Do not use secretin for the management of core symptoms of autism in adults.' (NICE, 2012)
There is a reasonable amount of research evidence (17 group studies and four single-case design studies) into the use of secretin for individuals on the autism spectrum.
The vast majority of those studies reported no benefits of any kind and some reported adverse effects (such as an increase in challenging behaviours).
A minority of lower quality studies reported a range of benefits (such as improved gastrointestinal symptoms, alongside improved eye contact and alertness) in a sub-group of participants. However those benefits failed to reach statistical significance, meaning that they could have happened as the result of chance.
There is evidence from a range of sources to suggest that secretin may sometimes cause potentially harmful effects.
We believe that the theory behind the use of secretin as a treatment for people on the autism spectrum is weak and unproven. We also believe that the research evidence suggests that secretin provides no real benefits for people on the autism spectrum.
Because of this we cannot recommend the use of secretin for people on the autism spectrum.
Please read our Disclaimer on Autism Interventions