Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Children's and parenting health centre


BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have a child with autism. It tells you about secretin, a treatment used for autism. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

No. Research has shown that having treatment with secretin doesn't work any better than having a dummy treatment (a placebo) to help children with autism.

What is it?

Secretin is a hormone your body makes. Its job is to help your body break down food properly.

Doctors sometimes use secretin to help them diagnose problems with your digestive system. For this purpose, it's made in the laboratory.

Some doctors have tried using injections of secretin to treat children with autism.

How can it help?

It doesn't help. Several studies have shown that secretin doesn't help with any of the symptoms of autism. [108] [109]

How does it work?

Some doctors think there is a link between autism and the way the digestive system works. So they thought secretin might help. But research shows that it doesn't help.

Can it be harmful?

In studies, children who had injections of secretin had a range of minor side effects. These included being bad-tempered, being over-active, and vomiting. [108]

How good is the research on secretin?

The evidence that secretin doesn't work is quite strong.

We found two summaries of the research ( systematic reviews). [108] [109] The first summary looked at 16 good-quality studies ( randomised controlled trials) of secretin for children with autism. All of the studies showed that giving children secretin injections didn't work any better than giving dummy ( placebo) injections for any symptoms of autism.

The second summary also found that secretin didn't work. [109]



A placebo is a 'pretend' or dummy treatment that contains no active substances. A placebo is often given to half the people taking part in medical research trials, for comparison with the 'real' treatment. It is made to look and taste identical to the drug treatment being tested, so that people in the studies do not know if they are getting the placebo or the 'real' treatment. Researchers often talk about the 'placebo effect'. This is where patients feel better after having a placebo treatment because they expect to feel better. Tests may indicate that they actually are better. In the same way, people can also get side effects after having a placebo treatment. Drug treatments can also have a 'placebo effect'. This is why, to get a true picture of how well a drug works, it is important to compare it against a placebo treatment.

randomised controlled trials

Randomised controlled trials are medical studies designed to test whether a treatment works. Patients are split into groups. One group is given the treatment being tested (for example, an antidepressant drug) while another group (called the comparison or control group) is given an alternative treatment. This could be a different type of drug or a dummy treatment (a placebo). Researchers then compare the effects of the different treatments.

systematic reviews

A systematic review is a thorough look through published research on a particular topic. Only studies that have been carried out to a high standard are included. A systematic review may or may not include a meta-analysis, which is when the results from individual studies are put together.

For more terms related to Autism


For references related to Autism click here.
Last Updated: August 29, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

woman looking at pregnancy test
Early pregnancy symptoms
donut on plate
The truth about sugar addiction
smiling african american woman
Best kept secrets for beautiful hair
couple watching sunset
How much do you know?
nappy being changed
How to change your baby's nappy
woman using moisturizer
Causes and home solutions
assorted spices
Pump up the flavour with spices
bag of crisps
Food cravings that wreck your diet
woman with cucumbers on eyes
How to banish dark circles and bags
probiotic shakes
Help digestion
polka dot dress on hangar
Lose weight without dieting