Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), better known as autism, is a condition related to brain development that affects the way a person perceives and socializes with others.
It is called a “spectrum disorder” because different people with ASD can have a wide variety of different symptoms. Some may have trouble speaking and may not make eye contact when they speak, others may have limited interests and repetitive behaviors.
These symptoms can lead to difficulties communicating and interacting or leading a completely independent life.
Autism begins in early childhood, and children often have symptom during their first year. These include:
- Avoid eye contact or lack of facial expression.
- Speak with an abnormal rhythm and tone.
- Not understanding simple questions or prompts.
- Not expressing emotions or feelings or not being aware of the feelings of others.
- Not speaking, having delayed speech development, or losing the ability to say words or sentences.
- Not being able to hold conversations.
- Approaching social interactions in an inappropriate, aggressive, or disruptive way.
- Having difficulty recognizing non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, body postures, or tones of voice of other people.
In some cases, children appear to develop normally during the first year and then go through a period of regression, between 18 and 24 months of age.
It is estimated that 1 in 160 children in the world has this disorder. In the United States, the incidence is 1 in 40.
Hispanic children are less diagnosed with autism, and if they do, it tends to occur an average of 2.5 years later than other population groups.
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Currently, there is no cure for autism spectrum disorders, although early and intensive treatment can make a big difference in children’s lives.
Zinc and autism
The appearance of autism in children is not only related to genes that intervene in the connections between brain cells, but also to environmental aggressions.
An example of the latter can be seen in a work published in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, which pointed out that there could be a link between zinc deficiency in fetal development and the abnormal neural connections associated with autism.
“Autism is associated with specific gene variants involved in the formation, maturation and stabilization of synapses during early development,” explained Dr. Sally Kim of the Stanford University School of Medicine, lead author of the study.
The synapse is the communication region between neurons. “Lack of zinc during early development could contribute to autism through impaired synaptic maturation and neural circuit formation,” added John Huguenard, a co-author of the study and a Stanford University professor.
Currently, there are no controlled studies on zinc supplementation in pregnant women or infants, and the risk of autism.
It is important to clarify that neither the findings nor the research authors support zinc supplementation to prevent autism.
They also do not claim that the absence of zinc causes autism, but they did discover a type of relationship that, they explained, can help develop strategies for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of autism.
Effects of zinc on the body
Zinc is a nutrient present in cells throughout the body, which is linked to several benefits:
- Stimulates the immune system: Zinc is linked to the prevention of colds, bone loss, night blindness, alopecia, chronic fatigue, infertility, and prostate disorders. It also appears to promote protein synthesis and cell growth.
- Weight loss or control: Zinc causes a decrease in appetite, increasing the feeling of satiety and extending the periods between meals. In addition, it can play a role in the manipulation of the ghrelin hormone, responsible for indicating to the body when to eat, and the hormone leptin, responsible for indicating to the body when we eat enough.
- Skin care: Zinc plays an important role in the regulation of testosterone production, as well as in the synthesis of collagen. This is key to normalize the presence of oil under the skin, thus improving skin health and preventing the appearance of disorders such as acne, pimples or eczema.
You can easily incorporate zinc into your diet with the following foods:
- Oysters (one of the best sources of zinc).
- Meats: beef, pork, lamb, and poultry.
- Fish and shellfish.
- Legume grains.
- Fortified cereals.
- Dairy products.
- Bitter chocolate.
Fruits and vegetables are not good sources to obtain it, since zinc in vegetable proteins does not have as much bioavailability for humans as in animal proteins.
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If you have a healthy and balanced diet, you will have no problem getting enough zinc.
Some special groups, such as alcoholics, vegetarians, or pregnant and lactating mothers may have difficulties obtaining this mineral and suffer from zinc deficiencies.
In these cases, health professionals must determine if supplements are necessary to cover this deficiency.
How much zinc to consume?
The following daily doses of oral supplements have been studied in scientific research, as reported by the Comprehensive Natural Medicines Database:
- Boys and men ages 14 and up: 11 mg.
- Pregnant women between 14 and 18 years old: 13 mg
- Women 19 years and older: 8 mg
- Pregnant women 19 years and older: 11 mg.
- Lactating women aged 14 to 18: 14 mg.
- Lactating women 19 years and older: 12 mg.
In addition to being consumed orally, zinc can be applied to the skin or injected into a vein, always under the supervision of a health professional.
Taking too much zinc reduces the amount of copper that the body can absorb, which can lead to anemia and weakening of the bones.
The consumption of zinc supplements was also associated with different side effects, such as indigestion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches.
Until significant scientific evidence from human trials is available, people interested in using herbal therapies and supplements should exercise extreme caution.
Do not abandon or modify your medications or treatments, first talk to your doctor about the potential effects of alternative or complementary therapies.
Remember, the medicinal properties of herbs and supplements can also interact with prescription drugs, other herbs and supplements, and even alter your diet.
Sources consulted: Comprehensive Natural Medicines Database, US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, National Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.