Reseacher finds possible lipid metabolism disorder in children with autism

February 24, 2012, University of Alabama

(Medical Xpress) -- University of Alabama researcher Dr. Yasmin Neggers, a professor of human nutrition and hospitality management, found a possible lipid metabolism disorder in children with autism.

Neggers, whose main research focus is nutrition during pregnancy, was inspired by a visiting colleague to learn more about this disorder that affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.

The colleague, Dr. Eun-Kyung Kim from Kangnung-Wonju National University in Korea, and Neggers decided to look at blood levels of lipids and in two groups of South Korean – one group of typically-developing boys and another group of boys with an diagnosis. These fatty acids, particularly omega-3 and omega-6, are needed for normal development of the nervous system, including the .

“Many studies have shown omega-3 fatty acids to be neuro-protective because they decrease the risk of neurological problems,” Neggers said.  “We were surprised when we didn’t find studies that looked at omega-3 levels in children with autism.”

Even though there were no major differences in what these children ate, those with autism had a lower omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio and lower levels of high density lipoprotein, more commonly known as HDL. For both levels, it’s often believed, the higher the better.

HDL is commonly referred to as “good” cholesterol. High levels of HDL seem to protect against heart attacks, while low levels increase the risk of heart disease.

“It’s a very preliminary study, but we think there is some kind of lipid metabolism disorder in children with autism,” Neggers said. “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 cardio-vascular disease. We don’t know.”

Neggers is not suggesting parents change their children’s diets quite yet. More studies need to be done.

“We wouldn’t suggest starting to give omega-3 supplements to autistic children yet,” Neggers said, “although it wouldn’t hurt because it’s good for you. But these findings suggest the need for further investigation. The next step is to look at bigger sample sizes for a longer amount of time and with children of different ethnicities.”

There is nothing, yet, to suggest that increasing of HDL or omega-3 fatty acids will reduce the symptoms of autism. In fact, the study doesn’t reveal what causes what – if autism causes a lipid metabolism disorder or if the disorder causes autism.

What’s important about these findings is what it could mean later in life for the person with autism. Mystery still surrounds autism. Neggers hopes this is one more clue to solve it.

Explore further: Autism breakthrough could lead to new treatments

Related Stories

Autism breakthrough could lead to new treatments

September 8, 2011
US researchers say they have identified at least two distinct types of autism, paving the way for new and more targeted treatments.

Study links low DHA levels to suicide risk among U.S. military personnel

August 25, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A new study suggests that low levels of the highly unsaturated omega-3 essential fattyacids, in particular DHA, may be associated with increased risk of suicide. Researchers at the Uniformed Services University ...

Earlier autism diagnosis could mean earlier interventions

October 13, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Autism is normally diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 3. But new research is finding symptoms of autism spectrum disorders in babies as young as 12 months. If children could be diagnosed earlier, it might ...

Autism affects motor skills, study indicates

February 15, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Children with autism often have problems developing motor skills, such as running, throwing a ball or even learning how to write. But scientists have not known whether those difficulties run in families ...

Omega-3 fatty acids could prevent and treat nerve damage, research suggests

January 11, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Research from Queen Mary, University of London suggests that omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish oil, have the potential to protect nerves from injury and help them to regenerate.

Recommended for you

Nearly imperceptible fluctuations in movement correspond to autism diagnoses

January 17, 2018
A new study led by researchers at Indiana University and Rutgers University provides the strongest evidence yet that nearly imperceptible changes in how people move can be used to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders, including ...

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

Being bilingual may help autistic children

January 16, 2018
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have a hard time switching gears from one task to another. But being bilingual may actually make it a bit easier for them to do so, according to a new study which was recently ...

No rise in autism in US in past three years: study

January 2, 2018
After more than a decade of steady increases in the rate of children diagnosed with autism in the United States, the rate has plateaued in the past three years, researchers said Tuesday.

Autism therapy: Brain stimulation restores social behavior in mice

December 13, 2017
Scientists are examining the feasibility of treating autistic children with neuromodulation after a new study showed social impairments can be corrected by brain stimulation.

Social phobia linked to autism and schizophrenia

December 11, 2017
New Swinburne research shows that people who find social situations difficult tend to have similar brain responses to those with schizophrenia or autism.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JVK
not rated yet Feb 25, 2012
Has anyone else tentatively linked DHA in the maternal diet and infant diet to development of the olfactory/immune system, brain development and autism? Is this not a logical extension of what is already known?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.