Autism and Disordered Methylation: how you can support your child
Autism is often referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder because it is not a single disorder but a broad spectrum of disorders that share a varied range of symptoms. Individuals have similar problems of varying degrees across social interaction, empathy and communication. Symptoms can vary in intensity from person to person with regard to behaviour and levels of disability.
However, studies have shown that a large percentage of patients tend to have one thing in common – and that is the mutation of the MTHFR gene, as well as other genetic changes (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms or SNPs) which could compromise the methylation cycle. Disordered methylation has been found in many individuals with autism, and although the theory is still under research, it is believed to be a possible contributory factor in the development of certain aspects of autism. This may be a new term for many – but if you have an autistic child, you need to understand the connection and implication for your child.
Why is methylation important?
Gene Methylation, when properly functioning, ensures that we produce, protect and repair our DNA and achieve proper cellular function, helping us prevent autoimmune disorders, chronic illnesses and infections. The methylation cycle is dependent on B-vitamins, that provide the building blocks for developing cells and play a role in several physiological processes in the body. The methylation cycle is responsible for several essential functions in the body, including:
- production of dopamine – involved in behaviour, attention, mood and learning
- production of melatonin which regulates the sleep cycle
- production of serotonin – involved in mood and anxiety
- the production of myelin, essential for proper functioning of the nervous system
- detoxification and regulation of the immune system
- managing inflammation
- detoxification of harmful environmental toxins, such as pesticides, xenobiotics, heavy metals and other harmful substances, including mercury, lead, arsenic, tin, and aluminium
- preventing allergies by detoxifying environmental allergens
- production and function of proteins, as well as CoQ10, carnitine and choline
- involvement in the reduction of homocysteine levels, a compound which damages blood vessels
How you can support your child
There are several ways to optimise methylation in a child diagnosed with autism:
Diet: The best diet to support healthy methylation function is a diet rich in leafy green vegetables and good quality proteins. Fortified grain products may impair an already compromised methylation cycle, as synthetic folic acid could potentially complicate the process of methylation.
Lifestyle: exercise is extremely important and supports certain aspects of the methylation cycle.
It is best to use methylation supplements under guidance and supervision.
- Methyl folate (5MTHF) and folinic acid – the most important methylation support supplement. Cerebral folate deficiency, which presents with autism and seizures responds well to high doses of folate supplementation.
- Vit B6 – is a very important co-factor in the methylation cycle and often needs supplementation.
- DMG and TMG – Dimethylglycine (DMG) and trimethylglycine (TMG) are essential for donating methyl groups to the methylation cycle, optimising what is a crucial process in boosting and sustaining neurological health.
- SAMe – is a receiver of methyl donors and delivers methyl to 200 pathways in the body, including those required to produce carnitine, creatine and phosphotidylcholine. Carnitine is necessary for delivery of Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids which have been shown to positively support language, as well as social and cognitive development. Phosphatidylcholine plays a role in cell membrane health and repair, a function which improves both sensory and motor planning problems in children with autism or ADHD, or sensory integration disorder.
- Other B-vitamins – also play a role in supporting the methylation cycle.
- Methyl B12 – Research has shown that mB12 supports methylation and the production of glutathione. When regularly injected, over 90% of children respond positively. However, poor response may be related to heavy metals, the wrong diet, or a low level of viral infection.
- Magnesium – is a further co-factor in the methylation process.
Testing one’s methylation capacity
- One of the most accessible markers of methylation is homocysteine, which can be tested on a blood sample.
- Certain markers on the Organic acid urine test also reflect methylation efficacy.
- The genetic SNPs for methylation can be tested by doing a cheek swab, although other supporting information and further genomic testing completes the picture more accurately.