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Lower Levels of Good Cholesterol Observed In Children with Autism: Study

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autism-may-respond-to-fatty-acids-and-good-cholesterol Darrin Klimek/Lifesize/Thinkstock

The mystery of autism’s causes and treatments continues to unfold as more research is being done into the condition. At the University of Alabama, a professor of human nutrition and hospitality management was inspired by a visiting colleague to find out more about the brain’s development of interpersonal communication skills and was surprised with some findings.

However, she warned that these findings are preliminary but could be the tip of the iceberg and certainly warrants more study on the subject.

Dr. Neggers, along with her colleague, took up the study of blood levels of lipids and fatty acids of two groups of children in South Korea. The first group were typically-developing boys and the second group had boys of the same age group diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

The reason why they looked into the blood levels of lipids is because it has long been known that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, more than any other fatty acids, are essential for the normal development of the brain and the nervous system.

Besides this, the two fatty acids also play a crucial neuro-protective role. They are known to inhibit the development of neurological problems. (1)

Omega-3 fatty acid (also known as alpha-linolenic fatty acid) is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that is involved in a variety of critical functions like controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain, etc.

It has to be taken in through diet as it is not manufactured by the body. It is found in salmon, shrimp, sardines, tuna, soybean, canola, flaxseed, walnuts, spinach, kale, sprouts, etc. (2)

Omega-6 fatty acid (also known as linolenic or gamma-linolenic acid) is also polyunsaturated fatty acid that needs to be taken in through diet. Good sources are soy, bacon, beef sticks and liver sausage, pistachios, almonds, sesame seeds, watermelon seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts, walnuts. (3)

Another surprising find was that though both the groups of children under the study ate more or less the same type and quantity of food, they had a significant variation in their omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio. This is so because omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties and some omega-6 sources promote inflammation.

Elevated levels of intake of one or the other can set off other conditions. It was also observed that the group diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder had lower levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol, which has heart-protective properties.

According to Neggers, “It's a very preliminary study, but we think there is some kind of lipid metabolism disorder in children with autism. It is plausible that low blood levels of HDL and omega-3 fatty acids observed in autistic children at an early age may be an indicator of impaired fatty acid metabolism. What we need to do is follow these kids until they become older and then see whether their lower amounts of good cholesterol result in any health problems, such as a higher risk of cardio-vascular disease. We don't know.” (4)

The researchers are not yet recommending that parents of children with autism radically change the diets of their children, as more studies need to be done to cover other ethnic groups and with a larger population.


1. Children With Autism Have Lower Levels of HDL; Science Daily News; February 2012; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120124112925.htm

2. The Nutrition Source, Ask the Expert: Omega-3 Fatty Acids; Harvard School of Public Health; February 2012; http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/questions/omega-3/index.html

3. Natural Sources Of Omega 6 Fatty Acids; Livestrong.com; February 2012; http://www.livestrong.com/article/85893-natural-sources-omega-fatty-acids

4. Breaking Down Autism: Researcher Finds Children with Autism Have Lower Levels of HDL; Newswise; February 2012;

Technical report of the research may be accessed at:

1. Mental retardation is associated with plasma omega-3 fatty acid levels and the omega-3/omega-6 ratio in children; Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition; February 2012; http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/APJCN/Volume18/vol18.1/Finished/4_1465_Neggers_22-28.pdf


Mamta Singh is a published author of the books Migraines for the Informed Woman – Tips From A Sufferer: ISBN: 978-81-291-1517-1 (Publisher: Rupa & Co. URL: http://www.amazon.com/Migraines-Informed-Woman-Tips-Sufferer/dp/8129115174/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1298990756&sr=1-2), Mentor Your Mind – Tested Mantras For The Busy Woman: ISBN: 978-81-207-5973-2 (Publisher: Sterling Publishers; URL: http://www.amazon.com/Mentor-Your-Mind-Tested-Mantras/dp/8120759737/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1316063179&sr=8-1) and the upcoming Women’s Complete Fitness Guide (Publisher: Hay House India).

She is also a seasoned business, creative and academic writer. She is a certified fitness instructor, personal trainer & sports nutritionist through IFA, Florida USA. Mamta is an NCFE-certified Holistic Health Therapist SAC Dip U.K. She is the lead writer and holds Expert Author status in many well-received health, fitness and nutrition sites.

She runs her own popular blogs on migraines in women and holistic health. Mamta holds a double Master's Degree in Commerce and Business. She is a registered practitioner with the UN recognised Art of Living Foundation.

Please visit www.mamtasingh.com/

Reviewed March 22, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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