There’s been an alarming rise in autism among our kids. Namely, a 78 percent increase since 2002. Shocking, really. And I’ve treated more and more children with autism in my practice. So any new research pointing to potential new causes or treatments is high on my radar.
Now a new study out of the Institute for Autism Research at Canisius College in New York has found that lower-functioning children with autism showed disconcertingly high levels of cortisol.
Cortisol is one of the body’s primary stress hormones, along with adrenaline. Your body releases these hormones to put you on alert in the face of danger—whether it’s a physical threat, illness or injury, a family crisis, or just rush-hour traffic. (It’s all the same to your body.)
When your adrenal glands are working properly, they stop releasing these hormones shortly after the perceived danger has passed. But if you’re under too much stress for too long, things can start to go haywire. Your cortisol levels can stay high. Your body stops “listening” to it properly. And eventually, your adrenal glands “burn out” and stop producing enough stress hormones, even when you need them. And this can lead to all sorts of debilitating problems.
In this new autism study, the research team looked at the pattern of salivary cortisol throughout the day (morning, midday, and evening). Salivary samples were collected three times per day over four days from 13 children with low-functioning autism, 16 children with high-functioning autism, and 14 children without autism.
The results showed that all three groups showed the typical pattern of cortisol levels: highest at waking, lower at midday, and lowest at bedtime.
But, significantly, children with low-functioning autism had significantly higher cortisol across the day than both the high-functioning-autistic and non-autistic children.
And even more interestingly, the cortisol levels of high-functioning autistic children did not significantly differ from the non-autistic children across the day.
These findings suggest a link between cortisol and the level of functionality in kids with autism.
Of course, more research will need to be done to determine if taking steps to lower cortisol will help improve functionality in these children. However, there are plenty of natural ways to help lower cortisol levels. So there’s no reason not to try now to see if you notice results.
One of the No. 1 contributing factors to high cortisol levels is high sugar intake. Lower the sugar, lower your cortisol.
For more on cortisol, check out the full archives on my website (www.drpescatore.com)–just type “cortisol” into the upper-right search bar on the homepage and start reading up.
Canisius College. “Elevated cortisol in autism, research shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 June 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150602153350.htm>.