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Sulfate is used by the body for detoxification, maintaining the gut, and hormone production.3 Medical research has shown that sulfation is one of the biochemical pathways that does not function optimally for many children on the autism spectrum.67 Poor absorption in the gut, excess loss in urine, poor recycling of sulfate by the kidney, or oxidant stress and inflammation are possible causes of low sulfate levels in children with ASD.3 Removal of phenols from the diet and absorption of magnesium sulfate can have beneficial outcomes for children on the autism spectrum. When the process of sulfation is not working efficiently, it is important to remove phenols and salicylates (a type of phenol) from the diet.67 Phenol is a chemical that is present in different amounts in basically all foods.35 Some research has demonstrated that some children with autism have intolerances towards the phenol-sulphotransferase-P enzyme (also known as PST), which metabolizes phenols.68 Children who eat mass amounts of phenolic foods or foods containing salicylates or additives, such as food dyes, apples, bananas, peanuts, chocolate, and others (see below), can experience laughing at in appropriate times, strange rashes, erratic moods or behaviors, self-stimulatory behaviors, night awakenings, gut issues, and headaches.69 This list contains different food groups and the content of salicylates for each specific food item. Another recommended way to improve sulfation in a child is to expose them to Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) baths that contain two cups of Epsom salts in warm/hot water for about 20 minutes 2 to3 times a week.67
Research conducted in a 2002 pilot study that examined sulfation in individuals on the autism spectrum found that the “inability to effectively metabolize certain compounds particularly phenolic amines, toxic for the CNS, could exacerbate the wide spectrum of autistic behavior.”70 A 2000 study found that reduced “S-oxidation and sulphation appear also to have a clinical link with autoimmune dysfunction, correlating with the suggestion that this is a factor in many cases of autism.”71 An ongoing trial of a drug that contains quinidine sulfate, known as Nuedexta, is currently seeking participants according to Clinicaltrials.gov. The study aims to test the ability of Nuedexta, a drug currently prescribed to treat sudden, uncontrollable outbursts of crying and laughing,to reduce maladaptive and aggressive behaviors in adults on the autism spectrum.72 The study is estimated for completion in June of 2013. More research is needed to determine how individuals on the autism spectrum respond to sulfation treatments.
*Parents should consult their physician before implementing any dietary intervention for their child.