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May 9, 2005

Alternative Advances: Brain Food for Autism

Topics: Medicine

Can nutritional factors influence autistic behaviors?

Children and adults with autism have been reported to have low levels of pyridoxal-5-phosphate and low activity of pyridoxal kinase (i.e., pyridoxal is only poorly converted to pyridoxal-5-phosphate, the enzymatically active form). This could explain the functional need for high-dose vitamin B(6) supplementation in many children and adults with autism. It has also been reported that an increased vulnerability to oxidative stress and a decreased capacity for methylation may contribute to the development and clinical manifestation of autism. In other words,there's plenty of B-6 on hand, but a lack of sufficient functional enzyme levels to convert it to it's biologically active form!

In the same study, Plasma concentrations of methionine, S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH), adenosine, homocysteine, cystathionine, cysteine, and oxidized and reduced glutathione were measured in 20 children with autism and in 33 control children. On the basis of the abnormal metabolic profile, a targeted nutritional intervention trial with folinic acid, betaine, and methylcobalamin was initiated in a subset of the autistic children, It was found that relative to the control children, the children with autism had significantly lower baseline plasma concentrations of methionine, SAM, homocysteine, cystathionine, cysteine, and total glutathione and significantly higher concentrations of SAH, adenosine, and oxidized glutathione, a metabolic profile consistent with impaired capacity for methylation and increased oxidative stress in the autistic children. Interestingly, the nutritional intervention was effective in normalizing the metabolic imbalance in the autistic children. These are all just a few of the examples of nutritional factors effecting the clinical manifestations of autism. And there are many more as evidenced by this interesting article:


[...] Autism affects one in every 166 children. It's the most common childhood developmental disorder. Now researchers say changing your autistic child's diet could change his life forever.

The faces of autism -- young boys and girls stuck in a world all their own. A world Lin Schwarzkopf has come face to face with. Her 3-year-old Trevor was born with autism. It's a developmental disorder that's difficult to treat. Lucky for Lin, she ended up in the right doctor's office.  

Psychiatrist Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph.D., who received his medical degree from Stanford, has worked with autistic children for decades -- not only using traditional medicine, but also trying alternative approaches. His treatment for Trevor wasn't a drug -- he changed his diet.

"Trevor's been on a wheat-free, gluten-free, organic diet," Lin says. And it's working. "I could see that he was responding." When Trevor stopped eating gluten, found in wheat products, and casein, found in milk, he started walking and talking.

"I really don't know how to explain that, but it's common when you eliminate these particular substances from the diet," Dr. Mehl-Madrona, now of University of Arizona in Tucson, tells Ivanhoe.

One theory is that foods containing wheat and milk may actually work as a narcotic and cause some of the behaviors of autism.

But wheat and milk - containing foods may not be the only nutritional culprits. From the same article:

Dr. Mehl-Madrona says vitamins B-12, B-6, folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium have all shown a strong effect on autism. "When you super-saturate the brain with nutrition, you can override some defects."

Dr. Mehl-Madrona admits this therapy does not work for everyone, however many studies have shown the benefits of these nutrients. In fact, 18 studies that have looked at vitamin B-6 for autism have all shown positive results.

The "super-saturation of the brain with nutrition" comment in the article doesn't mean that you can 'over-ride' nutritionally-related factors that contribute to autism by stuffing the patient full of vitamins and nutrients. Remember from this post's introduction, that in regard to vitamin B-6 the lack of functional activity of B-6 is related to low levels pyridoxal-5-phosphate and low activity of pyridoxal kinase (i.e., pyridoxal is only poorly converted to pyridoxal-5-phosphate, the enzymatically active form). Yes, in the source-study supplementation was effective in normalizing the metabolic imbalance in the autistic children, buy this isn't universally the case.

The point here is that nutritional factors can 'potentially' significantly affect clinical manifestations of autism, and if you have a child with autism you should definately consider nutritional supplementation with vitamins B-12, B-6, folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium, as well as dietary factors such as foods containing wheat and milk(examples of nutritionally-related factors known to influence autism). However, you should do so ONLY after consulting with your physician - you could otherwise have less than desirable effects.

Posted by Hyscience at May 9, 2005 11:51 AM

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