Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vitamin E, Omega-3s & Carnitine for Autism Spectrum Disorders

As a physician and researcher at Children's Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, Dr. Claudia Morris studies both kids and nutrition. Her most recent article is titled Syndrome of Allergy, Apraxia, and Malabsorption: Characterization of a Neurodevelopmental Phenotype that Responds to Omega 3 and Vitamin E Supplementation.

Phew, what a title, eh? Dr. Morris and her co-author Dr. Marilyn Agin found that with a variety of neurological disorders in children--including autism, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia--involve deficiencies in vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and carnitine are common.

What caught my eye was the high incidence of gluten sensitivities: 68% of the children had high antigliadin IgA antibodies (meaning that they were reactive to the wheat protein) and 100% tested positive for a "gluten sensitivity" gene. Food allergies or asthma existed in 88% of the children. And, gastrointestinal issues existed in a full 83% of the children. Poor kids!

Alas, problems with concentration, coordination, and communication is a big burden for these kids and their families. Couple that with GI upsets due to wheat and other food allergies and potentially asthma and it's a nightmare to manage all the symptoms, especially when most treatments for autism spectrum disorders have primarily been behavioral (speech and occupational) therapies.

That's where Dr. Morris and Dr. Agin come in--with a novel metabolic and nutritional approach to treating verbal apraxia. They studied 187 children, giving them supplemental vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) and carnitine as needed. With high doses of these nutrients, children in the study experienced "rapid clinical improvement" in both speech and coordination!

With an additional focus on eliminating trigger foods (wheat, dairy, yeast, and other allergens specific to each child), GI tract problems started to clear up as well, enabling nutrients to be effectively metabolized for neurological functioning and general intestinal function as well.

Interestingly, 80% of the children in the study exhibited a carnitine deficiency (also common in celiac disease), and the researchers believe that:

"Low carnitine may be a cause rather than an affect of gut inflammation, as recent studies support an obligatory role for carnitine in the maintenance of normal intestinal function...Carnitine also plays a critical role in fatty acid transport into the mitochondria and (low carnitine) may contribute to abnormal fatty acid metabolism."

Morris and Agin believe that children with autism spectrum disorders have a faulty fatty acid metabolism that is remedied by high doses of vitamin E (800IU divided into two doses was typical) and omega-3's (DHA at 280mg and EPA at 695mg was typical).

Children experiencing the most significant recovery were those using doses greater than 2000IU/day of vitamin E, but this very high level was monitored carefully by their pediatricians. And, based on another study on high-dose vitamin E therapy, Morris's team reports that:

"Even at 3200 IU/day, vitamin E clearly still works as an antioxidant rather than the theorized potential to become a pro-oxidant."

Unfortunately, when supplementation stops, children regress. When children had viral illnesses, the need for supplements increased, as inflammation, whether triggered by food or illness, consistently compromised neurological function. The takeaway according to the researchers?

"Pediatricians need to recognize the early warning signs of apraxia, consider screening for common metabolic and nutritional abnormalities associated with this syndrome, and initiate a referral to a knowledgeable developmental pediatrician or pediatric neurologist to obtain an accurate diagnosis."

While most of my readers don't have young children in the home, with the numbers of children affected by autism spectrum disorders, someone not too distant probably does. Pass the word on this cutting-edge research on safe nutritional therapies that could make a huge difference in both a young child's life and the lives of his/her parents and extended family.

Meanwhile, if any of you have a history of gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, you may want to understand your own carnitine levels, as celiac may cause carnitine deficiencies, and carnitine is critical not only to muscle energy but also to the transport of long chain fatty acids like omega-3's!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information. I am going to pass this article along to a friend of mine.

Cindy Marteney, CEO, Our Health Co-op said...

Nicholas, Thanks for passing the info along...a subscriber in New York is publishing my blog on vitamin E, omega-3's, carnitine and autism spectrum disorders too. Nice to share research such as this!

Warm regards,


Dentist Hayward said...

Thank you very much for this informative post. I will forward this to a friend whose child has ADHD...

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