Advancements in Autism Prevention That Every Parent Should KnowFamily Health
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
I recently came across a new study about zinc and autism. This study really resonates with me because it reinforces my firm belief that getting adequate amounts of nutrients, including minerals, even in the very early stages of development, may be critical to reduce the likelihood of diseases like autism. Minerals have been somewhat overlooked for quite some time (compared to vitamins), but they are relevant to so many health issues that plague our country.
Autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children. This brain disorder can really affect quality of life, especially when it comes to social communication, learning and just living day by day. For example, someone with autism may be ultra-sensitive and bothered by normal sounds, touches, smells or sights. Furthermore, living with this disorder may increase the risk of developing depression and anxiety.
The researchers of the study found evidence that the mineral zinc “shapes the connections or 'synapses' between brain cells that form during early development, via a complex molecular machinery encoded by autism risk genes.”
They cannot definitively say that zinc deficiency increases the risk of developing autism, but their work shows that it is a possibility.
“Autism is associated with specific variants of genes involved in the formation, maturation and stabilization of synapses during early development," says Dr. Sally Kim, lead study author.
“Our findings link zinc levels in neurons—via interactions with the proteins encoded by these genes—to the development of autism."
Basically, they suggest that zinc may play a role in the development of autism.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), other nutrients like uridine, omega-3 fatty acid DHA and choline are important for brain neurons and synapses.
“Dietary factors can affect multiple brain processes by regulating neurotransmitter pathways, synaptic transmission, membrane fluidity and signal-transduction pathways,” reports the NIH.
So there’s no doubt that nutrition and nutrients play a major part in brain function. “Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood,” reports Harvard Health.
it’s, therefore, not far-fetched that nutrient deficiencies may be linked to diseases like autism.
Evidence provided by the researchers “suggests that a lack of zinc during early development may contribute to autism through impaired synaptic maturation and neuronal circuit formation."
So Does This All Mean Pregnant Women Should Be Turning to Zinc Supplementation?
"Currently, there are no controlled studies of autism risk with zinc supplementation in pregnant women or babies, so the jury is still out. We really can't make any conclusions or recommendations for zinc supplementation at this point,” said one of the researchers.
We also have to keep in mind that too much of a certain nutrient can be just as bad as too little.
“Taking too much zinc reduces the amount of copper the body can absorb, which can lead to anemia and weakening of the bones. Furthermore, zinc deficiency does not necessarily imply a dietary deficiency—and could result instead from problems with absorption in the gut, for example.” (For more about zinc and copper, read here).
However, I highly recommend that pregnant women undergo nutrient testing to definitively determine whether they have any nutrient imbalances or deficiencies. Such a test will determine whether there is a zinc deficiency or an excess amount. If a nutritional issue is revealed, you can work with a competent healthcare professional to address this by possibly tweaking your diet or taking quality supplementation that is safe to take while pregnant.
There is also evidence that maintaining a healthy gut microbiome may also be a critical factor in preventing autism. And folate, which is a very important nutrient when it comes to having a healthy pregnancy, may also be relevant to autism.
Learn more about the relationship between minerals and autism by reading Minerals - The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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