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Mitochondria are Crucial for Regression in Autism

Children with autism have an altered mitochondria function or inadequate energy production in cells, especially brain cells. 30 to 50% of children with autism show altered indicators of mitochondria dysfunction. Mitochondria are crucial for the brain, heart, and muscle cells. Typically, a child with autism may show low energy, poor muscle tone, and difficulty concentrating, which are signs of insufficient mitochondria function (1).

More than 30% of children with autism are victims of developmental regression. Developmental regression is a phenomenon that occurs when a child develops typically but starts to loose social and communication skills (loss of developmental milestones) around the age of two years. What will be the most prominent factor associated with this regression phenomenon? Are the mitochondria or energy deficit inside the cells related to the regression in children with autism?

Physicians from the University of Massachusetts investigated these questions (2). This clinical study involved thirty-two children with autism, a placebo group, and children with developmental regression with autism.

The results of this clinical trial brought new knowledge to the phenomenon of regression in children with autism. The children who suffered from regression had more substantial evidence of mitochondrial dysfunction than autistic children without regression. It seems that regression involves a trigger situation like illness or fever that overwhelms the mitochondria and results in a decline of neurologic functions in children with autism.

The good news is that there are blood tests that can help to detect mitochondrial dysfunction in children. It may help to acknowledge if a particular child is more prone to regression. Also, nutrition is absolutely essential for an optimal mitochondria function. Healthy fats, low consumption of junk foods or refined carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables are critical to a healthy brain function. Besides, nutrients like CoQ10, ubiquinol, L-carnitine, lipoic acid, B-vitamins, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D will benefit mitochondria. Deficiencies of any of these nutrients may negatively affect the mitochondria.

There is hope for autism!!

David Rivas, RPh, MSc, CCN

Pharmacist and Clinical Nutritionist/Consultant


(1): Rossignol, D. A., & Frye, R. E. (2012). Mitochondrial dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Molecular Psychiatry, 17(3), 290-314.

(2): Singh, K., Singh, I. N., Diggins, E., Connors, S. L., Karim, M. A., Lee, D., ... & Frye, R. E. (2020). Developmental regression and mitochondrial function in children with autism. Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, 7(5), 683-694.

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