Some autistic children and adolescents exhibit evidence of mitochondrial dysfunction, an energy production problem, which can lead to poor growth, loss of coordination, muscle weakness, vision or hearing difficulties, developmental delays and Gastrointestinal Symptoms (Severe Constipation). Mitochondrial dysfunction is commonly associated with carnitine deficiency. Carnitine is a naturally endogenous compound known as a mitochondria ‘booster’ that plays a major role in the use of healthy fats by human cells, of particular note, neurons. A deficiency of carnitine is known to have deleterious effects on the central nervous system.
In 2014, Researchers from the Ain Shams University, Cairo, proposed that L-carnitine could be utilised as a potential treatment for patients diagnosed with autism. Thirty children diagnosed with autism were randomly assigned, 100 mg/kg/body weight per day of liquid L-carnitine, or placebo, for 6 months. The overall results of the study showed that L-carnitine therapy for 6 months significantly improved clinical measurements recorded by trained professionals and clinical pharmacists among participants diagnosed with autism. There were significant improvements in childhood autism rating scale (CARS) scores, as well as increased blood levels of total and free carnitine levels. It is important to note that there was no correlation between increasing carnitine levels and positive outcomes on autism severity measured by CARS.
The results from the above study are consistent with previous controlled trials of L-carnitine therapy on different populations. For example, in 2002, researchers evaluated the efficacy of 100mg/kg body weight of L-carnitine administered orally, twice daily, in patients diagnosed with ADHD. In this 2002 study, L-carnitine significantly decreased the attention problems and aggressive behaviour in boys with ADHD. Moreover, other researchers (1999) have evaluated the effect of L-carnitine supplementation for 8 weeks in children diagnosed with Rett syndrome. In this study, L-carnitine significantly improved sleep efficiency, energy levels and communication. In addition, L-carnitine therapy improved the concentration, eye contact, language development and motor skill compared to placebo.
It is advised that future studies explore additional dosing regimens to identify the potential optimal dosing level or range of L-carnitine for subjects diagnosed with autism.
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