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Amino Acids

Amino acids are known as the building blocks of proteins.48 When protein is digested properly, the small peptides and amino acids that form the protein molecule are absorbed into the body. These amino acids can then “reassembled to make a wide array of critical substances, such as neurotransmitters, hormones, enzymes, antibodies, immunoglobulin, glutathione, and many other substances. Amino acids are the ‘building blocks’ of life.”3 Individuals on the autism spectrum can have insufficient amino acids due to digestive problems that inhibit their ability to properly digest proteins or simply have diets that are low in protein.3 An approach of nutritional supplementation with amino acids and vitamins/minerals is commonly preferred over psychiatric medications because it “generally has far fewer side-effects, and addresses the underlying core problems.”49 Amino acid testing can be done through blood or urine samples.

Laboratory testing of blood and urine samples of individuals with both mitochondrial disease and autism show that increased levels of certain amino acids are present in these individuals.50 This suggests that individuals with both mitochondrial disease and autism have “cells that are generating energy inefficiently with an excess of damaging byproducts.”50 A 2003 study tested individuals with autism and their families for amino acid levels. The results found that raised levels of specific amino acids were present in these families compared to age-matched controls, which indicates that “children with autism spectrum disorders come from a family background of dysregulated amino acid metabolism and provide[s] further evidence for an underlying biochemical basis for the condition.”51 Amino acids supplements have been seen to reduce a form of verbal stimming that occurs when the child makes a high-pitched, repetitive sound. The child can undergo an amino acid profile to determine where, if at all, there is an amino acid deficiency. If a deficiency is present, a customized pharmacy compound can be created to alleviate the deficiency and, ideally, quell this particular symptom.52 More research that investigates if an amino acid imbalance is affecting the digestive processes of individuals on the autism spectrum and if amino acid supplements can help alleviate the symptoms for individuals on the autism spectrum is necessary.

In 2012, it was discovered that “some patients with the combination of autism and epilepsy suffer from a genetic mutation in the BCKDK gene. This mutation results in low levels of certain protein-building blocks called branched chain amino acids (BCAAS).”53 Although this type of autism is very rare, the individuals affected by it may benefit by implementing BCAA supplements into their diet. However, more testing and participants are needed to explore the potential benefits of these particular amino acid supplements.

*Parents should consult their family physician before implementing any dietary intervention for their child.