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Zinc, copper levels in autism could provide answers

Lana Bandoim's picture

Researchers have been investigating zinc and copper levels in people with autism to determine if there is a link to the condition. Now, a new study reveals important information about the balance of these minerals in autistic people. The levels of zinc and copper may hold vital clues to understanding autism.


Scientists have been trying to uncover the mysteries of autism spectrum disorder by analyzing mineral levels in the body. A study published in Neuroreport indicates that zinc and copper may provide some answers on the subject. After studying children with autism, they discovered that their zinc and copper levels differed from the general population. Zinc levels in autistic children were less than normal while copper levels were more than normal.

The researchers concluded that there was an imbalance of zinc and copper in the bodies of some autistic people. Although it is difficult to estimate how many people are affected, previous research supports their findings. The imbalance has been connected to metabolic issues, but there are other concerns that need to be examined. A zinc deficiency may lead to wound healing problems, impaired taste or smell, enzyme function issues and immune system problems. Since people with autism often suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, they may not be getting enough zinc from their diet or supplements due to malabsorption. It has been suggested that mineral deficiencies that appear at birth or an early age may influence more than development and could play a factor in ongoing health issues.

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On the other hand, too much copper in the body presents a different set of problems and can create toxicity. In addition, the zinc and copper imbalance is linked to the metallothionein proteins that are part of the detoxification process of heavy metals. Researchers plan to continue to study these minerals and their relationship to autism.

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Image: Foods high in zinc, Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons