Differences make us unique, and may have helped with survival

Modern humans may have multiple ancestors. Sub-Saharan Africans may be the only modern race without a mixture of ancestors. European and Asian populations have been found to typically have a small percentage of genes from Neanderthal people and more recently genes similar to Denisovan people have also been discovered particularly in people with native Australian and Melanesian ancestors. [1, 2, 3]

Today or yesterday is Autism Awareness Day, making it a good day to appreciate differences. Mixing with other peoples may have helped early African travelers adapt to lower levels of sunlight and colder climates. Lighter skin tone would allow more production of vitamin D even in areas with less sunshine.

The term autism spectrum helps suggest how much difference there can be between people with autism symptoms. The condition is not well understood. Some individuals may have increased skills in some areas of life but may have other difficulties with communication or social interaction. Underlying metabolic differences may be present that could be modified by diet if the genetic difference is identified. The type of bacteria in the the intestines may also be involved, which also could cause symptoms that might be helped by diet or use of probiotic supplements. [4] More research is needed – a phrase that gets overused. Searching for a cure to a genetic issue may not help as much as searching for ways to manage the changes that exist for each individual on the autism spectrum.

The increased rate of autism may also involve differences in the prenatal environment. Research into the frequency of defects in the methylation cycle in mothers may lead to better understanding of how we could help prevent the genetic changes in infants that can cause symptoms associated with the autism spectrum. Adequate levels of methylation can help protect genes from changing form. If the mother has an inadequate ability to methylate her own genetic material or vitamin B12 or folic acid, then the infant may also be more at risk of genetic changes occurring. A diet and environment that contains more toxins may leave a person with a limited ability to methylate more at risk for genetic changes occurring. [Methyl donors] [Methylation and BPA] [Elevated levels of BPA found in children with autism] [Genetic Screening for defects in the methylation cycle, a book link]

More research is needed into prevention and management of autism rather than looking for a cure to something that isn’t really a disease. Antibiotics might help if intestinal bacteria are unhealthy but underlying genetic changes are also involved.

/Disclosure: I am a nutritionist. Disclaimer: Information presented on this site is not intended as a substitute for medical care and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment by your physician. Please see a health professional for individualized health care services./


Elevated levels of BPA found in children with autism

Recently published research has found that children with autism had elevated levels of the plastic bisphenol A (BPA) compared to the children in the control group. [1] BPA is a contaminant in the food supply from its use in the plastic lining of cans and in other food packages such as plastic drink bottles. It may also be found on the slick surface coating of some types of register receipts.

This is a significant step compared to “we don’t know what causes it or how to stop it,” because BPA is something that could be avoided by prenatal women and people with autism. It is also good news because it may also be possible to reduce the risks of exposure to BPA by increasing intake of the plant phytoestrogen, soy genistein, or methyl donors such as vitamin B12 and folate and choline. [2]

/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes and is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

Methyl Donors and BPA

Methyl donors are chemicals that can donate a methyl group which is made up of one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms. Methyl groups on DNA signal the genes to remain unactivated, to stay in an off position. Removing the methyl groups can signal the gene to become active. A gene that has few methyl groups atttached may be more easily activated than normally.

This excerpt includes methyl donors and at least one methyl remove-er (BPA).

“Nutritional components that may influence the methylation of epigenetically susceptible loci include folic acid, vitamin B6 and 12, selenium, choline and betaine, methionine, soy genistein, bisphenol A, tocopherols, diallyl disulfide in garlic, and tea polyphenols [28]” [1]                                               *tocopherols are the vitamin E group.

Bisphenol A is not a natural component of food as I understand nutrition but BPA may be part of the plastic lining of cans and other food packages such as plastic drink bottles. It is also found on the slick coating of some types of register receipts. BPA may cause hypomethylation of DNA, fewer methyl groups on the DNA may cause activation of genes.

Bisphenyl A can act similarly to the hormone estrogen. Soy genistein is a phytoestrogen that may help block harmful effects of the estrogen mimetics. Other methyl donors that may help block the effects of BPA are the B vitamins folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 and choline and betaine.

Avoiding the supplement forms and eating more food sources of Folate and methyl B12 may be more beneficial for people with defects in the methylation cycle.(MTHFR is one example). Taking the unmethylated supplement forms may interfere with the smaller quantities of bioactive folate and B12 that might be found in natural sources.

Adequate B vitamins prenatally may also help protect against DNA changes in the infant.

Folate or Folic Acid:

Folate is the form of the vitamin found in food and it is more bioactive than Folic acid. Folic acid is the form that is commonly available as a supplement and in fortified foods however it requires adequate supplies of vitamin B12 to be available in order to be converted into a more usable form. A genetic difference may exist in some individuals that prevent the body from being able to convert the inactive Folic acid form into Folate, the methylated bioactive form of the vitamin.

Food Sources of Folate, the bioactive natural form, include: most beans and peanuts, black eyed peas, green peas, grains, asparagus, most dark green vegetables, orange juice, citrus fruits. Fortified cereal and rice are good sources of folic acid, the supplemental form.

Vitamin B12:

Food Sources of Vitamin B12 include: shellfish, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, dairy products, Nutritional or Brewer’s yeast. Vegetarians who don’t eat dairy, eggs, fish or other meat products may need a supplement or nutritional yeast, a vegan food source of vitamin B12.

Injections of B12 may be needed for better absorption of the nutrient for some individuals with stomach problems. Adequate stomach acid and a cofactor are required for normal absorption of vitamin B12. A genetic difference may be a problem for some people causing them to need the methylated active form of B12 rather than being able to benefit from the more commonly available unmethylated supplement.

Vitamin B6:

Food Sources of Vitamin B6 include: fortified cereal, barley, buckwheat, avocados, baked potato with the skin, beef, poultry, salmon, bananas, green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, sunflower seeds.

Choline and Betaine:

Choline is also a water soluble essential nutrient that is frequently grouped with the rest of the B vitamins. Choline is found throughout the body but is particularly important within the brain. Choline as a high dose supplement may cause mood symptoms in people at risk for unstable moods. It is a precursor for the brain neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Betaine is a metabolite of choline. Spinach and beets are rich in betaine. Good sources of choline include egg yolks, soy beans, beef, poultry, seafood, green leafy vegetables and cauliflower.

/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes and is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

  1. Kyung E. Rhee, et al., Early Determinants of Obesity: Genetic, Epigenetic, and In Utero Influences, International Journal of Pediatrics, Vol. 2012
  2. J. Higdon & V. Drake,  An Evidence-based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals:  Health Benefits and Intake Recommendations, 2nd Ed., (Thieme, Stuttgart / New York, 2012)
  3. “Choline” on whfoods.com: [whfoods.com]
  4. Betaine,” (Feb. 11, 2012) PubMed Health: [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/]  *link not working, part of the information is available here: [med.nyu.edu]
  5. Rebecca J. Schmidt, et. al. , “Prenatal vitamins, one-carbon metabolism gene variants, and risk for autism,” Epidemiology. 2011 Jul; 22(4): 476–485. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  6. MTHFR C677T Mutation: Basic Protocol,”