While neurodevelopmental disorders are still very much shrouded in mystery, scientists and medical experts are more and more convinced that proper nutrition plays a pivotal part in neural development and that certain kinds of diet adjustments can lessen the deficits associated with autism.
Nutrition professors Yasmin Neggers, from The University of Alabama College of Human Environmental Sciences, and Eun-Kyung Kim, from Kangnung-Wonju National University in Korea, have decided to look at lipid blood levels in children, expecting to find some connection between fatty acids and the incidence of autism.
Tests on autistic children reveal issues with fatty acid absorption
The science team measured fatty acid absorption levels for two separate groups of South Korean boys. One group consisted of normally developing boys, while the second consisted of boys who had been diagnosed with autism. Dr. Neggers explained that “many studies have shown omega-3 fatty acids to be neuroprotective because they decrease the risk of neurological problems. We were surprised when we didn’t find studies that looked at omega-3 levels in children with autism.”
Omega-3 and omega-6 are known as essential fatty acids because they have an immensely important primary function, which is to envelop the frail nervous tissue and shelter it from damage. The human brain is the fattest organ in the body since two thirds of it are composed of fats. Food sources of essential fatty acids include flaxseed, hemp oil, seafood, canola oil, chia seeds, algae, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cocoa butter, green leafy vegetables and a variety of nuts.
After comparing results from the two groups, the researchers found that although there were no considerable differences in the children’s diets, those who had been diagnosed with autism had a lower omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, and lower levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol). In numerous studies, HDL has been found to protect against arteriosclerotic heart disease, ischemic stroke and myocardial infarction.
Broader studies are still needed for definitive answers
“It’s a very preliminary study, but we think there is some kind of lipid metabolism disorder in children with autism. It is plausible that low blood levels of HDL and omega-3 fatty acids observed in autistic children at an early age may be an indicator of impaired fatty acid metabolism. What we need to do is follow these kids until they become older and then see whether their lower amounts of good cholesterol result in any health problems, such as a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. We don’t know”, explained Dr. Neggers.
While not suggesting that parents should necessarily supplement their children’s diets with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as part of an autism therapy, these substances are indeed beneficial under any circumstances. Most individuals, healthy or otherwise, are not getting enough essential fatty acids in their diets, which may put them at risk of developing a number of health-related issues. Some studies have even suggested that fatty acid imbalance may interfere with calcium absorption and contribute to the development of osteoporosis.
Professor Neggers concluded that the next step in the research on the relationship between autism and fatty acids should be to look at bigger sample sizes for longer periods of time and with children of various ethnic backgrounds.
Sources for this article include:
Image source: flic.kr
Article originally published on RawFoodWorld.com republished with permission.
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