A supplement available in markets could protect against a certain type of autism spectrum disorder, according to recent research published in the journal Cell Reports.
The supplement called carnitine is normally produced within the body and can be found in red meat, whole milk and other foods.
But “for some individuals, this simple nutritional supplement might really help reduce the risk of developing autism spectrum disorder,” Zhigang Xie, PhD, said in a Jan. 28 Science Daily news release.
Xie, lead author of the study published in Cell Reports, is assistant research scientist at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine.
One in 68 U.S. children has ASD, and the prevalence has increased by more than 120% since 2000, according to the CDC. About 1% of the world’s population has ASD.
Previous studies have demonstrated a strong association between carnitine and ASD, but Xie’s recent research shows that genetic defects can make it difficult for the body to create carnitine, and in turn, interfere with fetal brain development, according to the release.
For the study, Xie refined a new technology that allowed him to mark, follow and analyze individual neural stem cells in their native environment in a real developing brain. “It’s very difficult to study neural stem cells in their complex natural environment,” Xie said in the release. “But now we have a technology that makes such studies possible.”
The study’s results indicate women should be tested to see if they carry the mutated autism risk gene and consider supplementing the diet with carnitine before and during pregnancy, according to the release.
However, it’s important to note this particular prevention strategy will not apply to all cases of autism, study collaborator Vytas A. Bankaitis, said in the release. “Even if this (prevention) strategy works, it will not be a panacea for reducing all autism risk,” he said. “While it could work in cases involving carnitine-deficiency, other pathways are also in play because as many as 1,000 genes might ultimately be found to relate to autism risk.”
Bankaitis is the E.L. Wehner-Welch Foundation Chair in Chemistry at the Texas A&M College of Medicine.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Robert A. Welch Foundation, according to the article. The researchers hope to continue the study with a clinical trial.
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