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Autism Coach

Amino Acids as a Nutritional Therapy

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Amino acids, the building blocks of the proteins and intermediates in metabolic processes throughout the body, are being used more frequently as supplements in autism nutrition intervention protocols.  Humans can produce 10 of the 20 amino acids used by the body.  


The above picture shows how chains of amino acids are strung together to make a protein in the body.

Nutritional testing is revealing that many individuals within the autism spectrum are deficient in specific amino acids and have excessive levels of others.  Skewed metabolic pathways in autism due to chronic infection and inflammation are impairing the ability of the body's ratio of amino acids, producing too many of some amino acids, and not enough of others.

Amino Acid Notes

Excessive levels are neurotoxic or can convert to neurotoxins.

Best to avoid.

Aspartic Acid

Support ATP Energy Cycle and/or Methylation

Often helpful. 

Other supplements helpful to support methylation include SAMe, NAC, active forms of B12, B6, and folate.

Glycine Calming neurotransmitter.  Often helpful.
Branched Chain Amino Acids Helpful for some individuals.
Taurine Some individuals have too much; others not enough.

 In many children within the autism spectrum research studies who plasma levels of amino acids in individuals within the autism spectrum, haveelevated levels of glutamic acid but lower levels of glutamine, indicating a disrupted metabolic pathway, where glutamic acid is building up and not being converted to glutatamine.  This would lead to excessive levels of glutamate excito-toxicity.  There have also found to be high levels of aspartic acid. 

There may be difficulty due to digestive issues with individual within the autism spectrum breaking down proteins into their amino acid components.  Supplementing directly with amino acids provides them in a "pre-digested" form that may help to support many functions within the body.  Chlorella and spirulina are supplements that contain a bioavailable spectrum of amino acids.  They may also be found in pure forms in supplements - some do not taste good in their pure form and have to be heavily flavored, such as Creatine and Branched Chain Amino Acids, while others such as Glycine taste sweet.

Supplementing with amino acids helps to provide these building blocks to support optimal development throughout the body and brain.  They are available directly in their pure form and also occur in naturally absorbable forms in some foods and supplements such as Chlorella.  Anecdotally, many parents are observing significant improvements in their chldren when supplement with the right blend of amino acids.

Amino acids that individuals within the autism spectrum typically benefit from include Carnitine, Creatine, Glycine, Inosine, Histidine (contained in Carnosine), Methionine, and Taurine.  Some amino acids, such as Glycine act as a calming neurotransmitter.  Histidine is anti-inflammatory and can prevent or reduce an allergic reaction.  Creatine and Methionine support methylation and sulfation cycles that promote detoxification and neurological growth. Inosine is one of the few supplements shown to regrow nerve connections in laboratory animals; it acts as a master switch to turn on genes involved in the growth of nerve cells. 

Creatine, Carnitine and Carnosine all support the ATP energy cycle.  Carnosine is not an amino acid, but is made up of two amino acids; alanine and histidine, both of which are frequently deficient in individuals within the autism spectrum

Some individuals on the spectrum do well with taurine supplementation; others do not, depending on their genetic makeup. 

In autism, the methylation cycle, that is critical for detoxification and neurological development, is often impaired.  Creatine synthesis uses up to 40-70% of available methyl groups provided by SAMe, a critical component of the methylation cycle.  By supplementing with Creatine, more SAMe is freed up for use in detoxificatoin and neurological development.  For many people on the spectrum supplementing with Creatine, SAMe, and Methione help support the methylation cycle.  Also active forms of B12, B6, and folate are critical for methylation.

In addition, branched chain amino acids have been found to be helpful for certain forms of autism.

Amino acids that many individuals within the spectrum should avoid because they can act as neuro-toxins in excessive amounts include Aspartic Acid. Glutamic Acid, Phenylalanine and Glutamine.  Aspartic acid is most notably found in the aspartame in diet drinks - aspartame has been shown by research to be a neurotoxin - so don't drink diet drinks! Glutamic Acid and Glutamine can convert to glutamates that act as excitotoxins when found in excessive levels in the brain.  Excessive levels of phenlyalanine can also be a neurotoxin in individuals who do not break it down (including the genetic disorder, phenylketonuria). 

Foods that are neurotoxic because they contain the above amino acids include Aspartame (contains aspartic acid) and MSG (contains glutamtes)  - so it is best to avoid foods containing these additives. 

Every person is unique biochemically and so it is best to test for these levels of amino acids.  (This can be done through comprehensive testing suite called the Nutra-Eval offered by Genova Diagnostics .  This comprehensive analysis provides tons of useful information and must be ordered by a medical practitioner but is generally very affordable - in 2013 it was under $200 if your medical practitioner participates in their pay-assure program).

For a list of amino acids offered by Autism Coach, please click here.