The causes of autism remain unclear. On the one hand, autism seems to be genetic, and on the other hand, environmental factors can also promote the development. These environmental factors can include environmental toxins, but also vital deficiencies, such as zinc deficiencies. In a fall 2018 study, researchers showed how zinc in early development can promote synapse formation in the brain. This, in turn, could explain how zinc deficiency could lead to a faulty development of these synapses and thus autism.
Zinc deficiency could be co-cause of autism
Zinc is an important trace element. As it is required to an increased extent for the development of the embryo, a zinc deficiency should be avoided, especially during pregnancy and lactation. Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine wrote in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience in November 2018 that a zinc deficiency may even be linked to the emergence of autism.
Autistic people frequently suffer from zinc deficiency
Back in June 2017, the medical journal reported on a study in which elevated levels of lead in the milk teeth could be measured in autistic children (compared to healthy children), while at the same time measuring a zinc and manganese deficiency. These were dental areas that are applied perinatally (in a period just before until shortly after birth), that is, at a time that is also associated with the development of autism. But autistic women are also more likely to have a zinc deficiency in their blood than healthy children.
The dental examination again confirmed the suspicion that environmental factors are also involved in the development of autism in any case. The hereditary systems were only half responsible for the disease – according to the medical journal at the time.
Several studies devoted themselves to the mentioned zinc deficiency as a co-cause of autism. Animal experiments have long shown that a difficult diet of the mother is more likely to lead to autistic offspring. Yes, even with an appropriate genetic predisposition to autism, zinc seems to be helpful.
Zinc may reverse cell changes due to autismustypical gene mutations
Zinc is particularly needed in the brain, which therefore also has a high zinc level by its very nature. Cell communication in the brain is regulated by zinc, among other things. Even cells that carry the autistic gene material in them respond positively to zinc, researchers from the University of Auckland/New Zealand wrote in August 2016.
Cell changes in the brain caused by the autismust-typical gene mutations could therefore be reversed with the help of zinc.
Zinc improves cell communication in the brain
‘ We’ve focused on the Shank3 protein, which is in the synapses * of the brain and is so damaged in neural developmental disorders such as autism or schizophrenia due to a gene mutation that nerve cell communication is no longer properly Works. Patients with gene mutations to the Shank3 protein therefore show profound communication and behavioural deficiencies, “said Dr Johanna Montgomery, from the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland.
“Interestingly, the gene mutations seen in autism and the changes in the Shank3 protein that occur as a result do not result in a loss of responsiveness to zinc,” Montgomery explained. “Therefore, we were able to show that zinc can improve cell communication in the brain, even if it was previously impaired by autismutypical gene mutation.”
“Zinc is closely linked to the development of autism”
In the autumn 2018 study mentioned at the beginning, this situation was confirmed once again. Study author Dr Sally Kim, of Stanford University School of Medicine, wrote:
“The zinc content in the nerve cells is closely related to the development of autism, as zinc affects certain synapse proteins.”
Kim and colleagues discovered that when transmitting a dish in the synapse, zinc enters the recipient cell, where it can bind to two proteins – they are called Shank2 and Shank3. These proteins, in turn, affect the maturation of nerve cells during embryonic period and early development.
Giving extra zinc accelerates the maturation of nerve cells, according to study leader Dr. Huong Ha. Zinc, together with the mentioned proteins, can thus contribute to a comprehensive development of nerve cells and their synapses.
Zinc deficiency in early development leads to disorders in the nervous system
“In the absence of zinc in the phase of early development, this could contribute to the development of autism, as zinc deficiency results in impaired synapse maturation and neural network disorders,” explains Professor John Huguenard, who also contributed to the study. Neural networks are nerve cell associations, i.e. interconnected nerve cells, which together perform a certain function in this particular network.
“If we manage to comprehensively understand the interactions between zinc and the shan proteins, then this could lead to the development of diagnostic procedures, but also to effective autism therapy and prevention methods,” Huguenard continued.
Zinc is often forgotten in pregnancy
Of course, before and during pregnancy, you should be well supplied with ALL vital substances. However, while the focus is usually only on iron, folic acid, iodine, vitamin D and B vitamins, zinc is often completely forgotten. But it is precisely this trace element that the diet does not always allow itself to be absorbed in the required quantity and should therefore not be forgotten during a vitamin and mineral check.
Can taking zinc protect the unborn from autism?
While studies are still missing that would specifically show that zinc supplementation could reduce the risk of autism. Nevertheless, comprehensive zinc supply is a good idea in any case.
However, this does not mean that large quantities of zinc should now be consumed immediately. It simply means that one should avoid a zinc deficiency and therefore first check the personal zinc status and the zinc content of one’s own diet.
Only then can it be decided whether the required amounts of zinc can be consumed with the help of a dietary change (men 10 mg, women 7 mg, pregnant end 10/11 mg) or whether a well-dosed dietary supplement would make sense.
Zinc overdoses must be avoided
Zinc overdoses must be avoided in any case, as they are toxic and can also lead to a copper deficiency, which in turn could lead to anaemia and weakened bones.
What a zinc-rich purely plant-based diet might look like, we described here: Fixing zinc deficiency with the diet
Also keep in mind, however, that a high-interest diet may not be sufficient if there are resorption disorders in the intestine. A determination of the zinc level in the whole blood can provide information here.
- Synapses: Synapses are the most important switching points in the brain. It is the connecting points between two nerve cells (one transmitting cell and one receiver cell) where signal transmission takes place. There are 100 trillion synapses in someone’s brain. The interplay of these synapses determines the behavior of each individual human being. Synapses are – biochemist Nils Brose – highly complex molecular machines made up of hundreds of different proteins (protein building blocks). The interaction of these protein building blocks is responsible for the exact function of these synapses. If there are disturbances here, diseases can develop, possibly also autism.