Monday, 14 March 2011

The big H and autism

Only a short post this one. PubMed has been alive and kicking with a few articles of interest in recent days. Some interesting work on the potential difference between coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity has been published; harking back to my previous post on the subject. I will perhaps blog more about this at a later date.

More directly pertinent to autism is the publication of a preliminary report looking at urinary levels of homocysteine in autism (note the use of homocysteine not homocystine, which is a relation) backing up some previous findings in this area.

In brief the paper (which is available full-text from the publishing journal) recorded higher levels of homocysteine compared to controls. It is only a small study (n=34 autism; n=21 controls) but they do seem to have put in the work when it comes to the assay used for detection (bearing in mind that identifying just homocysteine and not also its homocystine relation is quite difficult). The same team also published this paper quite recently on levels of the amino acid tryptophan; it looks like they are going through all the amino acids for any potential effects.

Homocysteine seems to be a bit of a dark horse when it comes to human health. The role of this amino acid on things like cardiac health seems to be growing although at the moment there hasn't been any major sea change in this area. Probably more important for autism is the relation between homocysteine and its parent amino acid cysteine particularly going back to the dusty book which is sulphate and autism.
The authors suggest that perturbed levels of homocysteine might suggest a few things related to vitamin and mineral deficiencies but I do wonder if this is but one effect bearing in mind what this stuff is supposed to do to proteins such as collagen and elastin and also its proposed link with the MTHFR gene (also implicated in autism).

Finally what to do about it? Well that is the million dollar question. Proposals to supplement with specific B vitamins and folic acid have been put forward; interestingly also the use of trimethylglcine (TMG) (betaine hydrochloride), a sibling of dimethylglycine (DMG) being used in autism, in order to affect homocysteine levels (note I am not making any recommendations about this!).

One to watch perhaps?