A potential association between zinc deficiency and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in infants is identified in a preliminary study published in Scientific Reports. The work suggests that infantile zinc deficiency may be involved in the pathogenesis of these disorders but rigorous, controlled clinical trials are needed to establish whether a nutritional approach supplementing deficient nutrients, such as zinc, might benefit infants with ASDs.
ASDs are a group of neural development disorders characterized by difficulties with social interactions and communication, and unusual patterns of thought and behaviour. Potential heritable and environmental factors have been investigated but the pathogenesis of ASDs remains unclear. Zinc is an essential trace element whose deficiency has previously been linked with various pathological conditions, including impaired immunity, wound healing and neural development disorders.
Hiroshi Yasuda and colleagues examined zinc concentrations of hair samples from 1,967 children (aged 0-15 years old) diagnosed with ASDs by their physicians and compared them with previously published zinc reference ranges for healthy subjects. The authors found a significant association between ASDs and zinc deficiency, particularly in the infant group (0-3 years old), of whom 43.5% of males and 52.5% of females had a marginal to severe zinc deficiency. Infants need larger amounts of zinc for development and growth than older children, making them more liable to zinc deficiency, the authors speculate. These findings might ultimately lead to new avenues for their treatment and prevention.