"On the spectrum"
About 1% of children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, which affect about four times as many boys as girls. The causes of these disorders are largely unknown, but genetics and environmental factors both seem to play a role.
The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders seems to have risen sharply since the 1990s. Some of this jump may be due to increased reporting, as awareness of the disorders has risen and children are diagnosed at younger ages.
Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by deficits in communication skills, social abilities, and imagination. Children with autism spectrum disorder usually have some form of sensory dysfunction (for example, they may become easily overwhelmed in loud rooms), and they frequently engage in repetitive behaviors like hand flapping, rocking, spinning, or head banging, collectively referred to as "stimming."
While is no cure for autism spectrum disorders, treatments include therapies aimed at improving social and communicative skills. Some parents claim that following a gluten-free diet may help, while others have found that avoiding salicylates found in certain foods improves their children's symptoms.
Help on the cellular level
A carnitine deficiency may be linked to some of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders as some children with these disorders have low blood levels of carnitine, which may be linked to some of the symptoms. This amino acid, found in high concentrations in meat and dairy, is used in cellular energy production.
In the new study, 30 children between three and ten years old with an autism spectrum disorder were assigned to take 50 mg of L-carnitine per kg of body weight per day or placebo for three months. The children were assessed by medical professionals and their parents before and after treatment.
Compared with placebo, children taking L-carnitine had significant improvements in symptoms as rated by both parents and medical professionals, including speech, sociability, cognition, and behavior. As blood levels of carnitine went up, hand muscle strength, cognitive scores, and Childhood Autism Rating Scale scores also improved. L-carnitine was generally well tolerated with side effects similar to placebo.
"Future studies (should) further identify the potential optimal dosing level, elucidate the biological basis for L-carnitine's mode of action, and identify biomarkers for those with ASD [autism spectrum disorders] that would most benefit from L-carnitine therapy," commented lead study author, David Geier, of the Institute of Chronic Illnesses in Silver Spring, MD.
Concerned about autism?
Many symptoms of autism spectrum disorders may be picked up by the parents as being "not quite normal" long before they're noticed by others.
Contact your pediatrician if your child is not:
- Smiling by six months.
- Babbling and using gestures by 12 months.
- Using one-word phrases by 16 months.
- Using meaningful, non-imitated two-word phrases by 24 months.
Any regression or loss of social or language skills should also be reported to your child's pediatrician.
(Med Sci Monit 2011;17:15-23)