Autism and Nutrition

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You can’t always define the exact what causes Autism in toddlers and children. All that scientists know is it’s the mixed result of anomalies in neurobehavioral brain function, the genetic construct greatly responsible. The normal brain functions often go awry due to genetic factors.

Scientists also believe that the environment could also be a suspected cause of Autism. A lack of vitamin D may give rise to autistic behaviour and all through teen and the adult years, a deficit in testosterone. Toxic body burdens like lead and mercury exposure could be another reason; not to mention viral infections during pregnancy, especially of the liver.

Evidence range from weak to logical, so there’s not much support to many of these theories. Some appear wildly inaccurate; there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism.

The Role of Nutrition in Autism

Autism & Nutrition - the Autism diet plan
Autism & Nutrition – Understanding the link between Autism and Diet

Researchers are on a nutritional hunt this time. New research suggests that a proper diet, or certain nutritional supplements, may help in improving autism symptoms while certain foods might trigger autism in one. The current focus of the researchers is on 2 compounds – L-Carnitine and its related variant, Acetyl-L-Carnitine (collectively known as ALCAR). The ALCAR alleviates aging and diseased cellular mitochondria and increasing its fat-burning potential; therefore, boosting the brain, increasing alertness and supporting the neurons.

While the body can make its own supply of ALCAR – just like glutamine – it is also found in certain foods. Fish, eggs, red meats and milk are some of them.

Earlier Studies on Autism & Nutrition

A 2012 study focused only on a small group of people with mild or borderline autism symptoms. Their conclusion was that the genetic defect is merely an association and does not establish it as a direct cause behind autism. This study was conducted in collaboration between University of Maryland Medical Center and A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, Texas.

A bit about the study

The journal Cell Reports publishes the results of their tests on Carnitine as a prenatal supplement. The researchers believed that it can reduce the risk of developing autism. Carnitine helps to transform fat into energy and this energy is used by the body for many of its functions. The muscles, the heart and the brain get their energy to work this way.

Normally, Carnitine is produced naturally by the body as it’s required. Those who can’t produce adequate amounts naturally are often victims of angina and temporary lameness due to inadequate blood supply in the leg muscles.

Why some people can’t produce enough Carnitine?

A mutation in the TMLHE gene in the enzyme producing carnitine is held responsible for low production; sometimes, there’s no carnitine production at all! According to past researches, only a specific subgroup with mild autism was three times susceptible than normal to the mutation of the TMLHE gene. The lack of carnitine worsens the symptoms of autism. It alters the neural stem cells in the brain. It is a significant issue for the particular cell types and further contributes to existing autism.

Note: There’s one very recent study that unveils new technology to measure and analyze individual such neural stem cells and defects they bring to the brain. It’s a tough task, more so in their complex natural environment.

The Problem with Lower Carnitine

The researchers suggest the this lack of carnitine may be the missing link between autism and nutrition. A lack of carnitine production creates problems for the developing brain. Implanting carnitine into neural stem cells from external sources made the subjects of the study behave normally, which proves the compound’s potential to prevent autism. But, it applies only to a few types of autism. Moreover, if autism is due to any other factor – which could be any of the 1000 other genes – it might not work at all. At best, we could call it a significant but limited preventive strategy.

The Right ‘Autism Diet’

The carnitine study brought up a few questions. These are regarding diets and there are past hypotheses on how diet and nutrition might connect and contribute to the development of autism and on the reverse, i.e. its treatment. But they go beyond carnitine to explain.

As far as autism diets are concerned, options like GFCF (gluten-free-casein-free) diet for Autism is a more popular choice for parents, though this approach has earned both accolades and rebukes in the scientific community. It is also true that such diets might lack a lot of vital nutrients and they are more suitable for people with celiac and/or lactose intolerance. The healthier, regular people might not at all be benefitted from going GCFC. Some studies, in fact suggest against it.

Read: Does GFCF Diet work for Autism

Other Related Topics on the same subject

What the future holds

So that is the way forward with autism and nutrition. Only more research will help to understand the link better. Simple nutritional supplement might be helpful in reactively reducing the risk of developing ASD but the prevention front is still to be covered.

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