Sunday, April 17, 2011

Studying Low Cholesterol in Autism

A new clinical trial was announced was announced earlier this month that is looking at the relationship between low cholesterol levels and autism.  According to the press release -
Researchers at The Ohio State University Medical Center are studying whether simple nutritional intervention – adding cholesterol to the diets of children with autism spectrum disorders after a test to see if they need it – can improve core autism symptoms.
In excess, cholesterol can be harmful, but a certain amount is crucial for the proper development and maintenance of the brain. So it stands to reason that lower levels of cholesterol, particularly during crucial periods of growth, can lead to mental dysfunction, said principal investigator Dr. L. Eugene Arnold, a child psychiatrist at Ohio State’s Nisonger Center who specializes in researching and treating autism.
(read the rest at the link above)
Full details on the trial are available from the U.S. National Institute of Health's clinic trial website, but the general idea is as follows.
  1. Find out how many children with autism have extremely low total cholesterol.  Low cholesterol in this context will probably mean less than 120.
  2. See if there are unique characteristics of these individuals that set them apart from with other children with autism who have normal cholesterol.
  3. Test whether giving dietary cholesterol supplements will improve "behavioral and other characteristics" in these individuals.
The main part of the study is going to be a 12 week randomized and placebo controlled trial of 60 children immediately followed by a 12 week open-label trial in the same children.

This seems to be a well designed study but I do have one concern - what will be considered an "improvement"?  Is successfully raising the child's cholesterol level back into a normal range going to be considered an improvement or do there have to be clinical significant behavioral improvements to go along with it?  The details provided on the NIH's site don't make that clear.

This may seem like a small point but it really isn't - dietary supplements aren't the same things as drugs.  They don't tend to have large, immediate effects nor do they work as quickly as drugs do.  The supplement may succeed in raising the cholesterol level in these children but will that translate into noticeable changes in behavior in such a short time period?

Remember, almost all of the tests that look at autism look solely at behaviors.  Behaviors are - even in autism - things that are learned. So even if you take out the underlying cause of the behaviors it will take time and effort to unlearn the behaviors.

But more than that, if cholesterol is important for normal development, it might be that the absence of cholesterol during certain periods that impairs normal development.  Simply giving cholesterol isn't going to repair or fix the things that didn't develop properly.  But maintaining a healthy level of cholesterol might prevent other things from going wrong in the future.

Regardless, it is good to see these sorts of trials being done.  I believe that there are many children with autism who will benefit from taking a more biological approach to treating autism.


  1. Interesting. Blogger David Evans has some interesting links on low cholesterol in neurodegenerative disorders and alzheimers:

    But what if it turns out crappy government dietary guidelines are contributing to autism? Then are we going to get the same vehement response from the "experts" as we have about the vaccines? In a way I'm kinda joking, but in another way I have to go hmmm. My grandmother jumped on the low-fat/low cholesterol bandwagon very early on and my mother and brother (and son) are all on the spectrum. My son is a major diet responder to the SCD. He loves to go on these butter eating kicks, which we let him indulge in, with the blessings of a ntutritionist even, and we swear it seems to help with his constipation. So who knows, maybe there's something to it.

  2. My kid has autism.
    She stares allot spins makes random sounds and needs to be fed.
    8 days after normalizing her cholesterol she eats mostly independantly and for the first time ever said "Hanna loves Daddy"
    For those it works for it works.
    John Shackelford
    Rocky Point, NY

  3. Hi John,

    If you don't mind my asking, how did you normalize your daughter's cholesterol?

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. We just found out our son has low cholesterol levels. Before the test he keep asking to eat eggs and bacon and develop a love for shrimps. He always seem to know what his body needs, now we are trying a high cholesterol diet. He is in the spectrum and he is 17

  6. I have always (since my first cholesterol check via blood donation at the age of 22) had low cholesterol. My TOTAL cholesterol is between 80 and 90 mg/dl. I have always wondered why this is. I haven't, personally, suffered much from the 'problem' in the past, but lately have been showing symptoms of FHBL, a disease whereby people cannot assimilate cholesterol (medium chain fatty acids). I do have family members whom I have suspected of having genetic errors which result in addictive and learning behaviors. I also have young children who, inexplicably, seem to have a hard time behaving themselves lately, so, I started researching whether low cholesterol might have anything to do with it. Then, I found out about the potential link between autism and low cholesterol. In my case, I believe it contributes to ADD. Seems that if you cannot assimilate cholesterol, you also have a hard time with fat soluable vitamins, so part of the treatment for FHBL is large doses of fat soluables and medium-chain fatty acids (coconut oil is best). IF YOU DON'T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH FAT SOLUABLES, DO NOT GIVE LARGE DOSES TO YOUR CHILDREN! IT COULD BE DAMAGING TO THEM! I want to give them to my kids, but first I need to be checked out to make sure I have this genetic defect (my mother is 70, and has a cholesterol level of about 100), and then I will check my kids! I have been taking the supplements, and I feel better (my memory was EXTREMELY poor, and I was tired a lot of the time; both have been improved).
    Please check with your doctors before taking fat solubles!!!
    Good luck!

  7. Sorry, in my previous post, I was not specific enough about which cholesterol I am low in: I am EXTREMELY LOW in LDLs (less than 10mg/dl), while my HDLs are where they should be - over 60mg/dl. This is VERY important because FHBL stands for Familial (genetic) HypoBetaLipoproteinemia. The HypoBeta part results in low LDLs because they comprise 95% of the proteins in LDL cholesterol. The Betas are "...necessary for the reaction with LDL receptors in the liver and on cell walls and is thus involved in transporting cholesterol from the liver to the cells." ( The previous link is a great article! Please read it!
    One more thing, many people are caught up in the misconception that fat=cholesterol...NOT TRUE! While cholesterol is found almost exclusively in animal products, fat is NOT healthy in vast quantities! Shrimp are one the highest sources of cholesterol; have you ever seen a fat shrimp!:-O

  8. Epsom salt baths will help. Mg inhibits HMG CoA reductase and via biofeedback, it lowers toxic levels of 7DHC.

    Son (32)...very delayed speech - didn't talk until age 2. Tongue tied at birth. Surgery to clip at 9 mos. Auditory discrimination prob. ADHD. Learning Disabilities (esp. math and spelling). Dyslexic. Writing painful.

    Large infant...9#10oz and 21 inches. Needed to go on soy formula by day 3 due to digestive issues.

    Intense interest in cars (transportation). Missed social cues. Loner. Figured out Asperger's by age 17.

    First seizure at puberty. Hyponatremia triggered. Told by psych. he cannot "hold onto" sodium. Only one EEG showed prob. - spike in occipital region.

    Functional MRI showed small and EXTREMELY small vertebral arteries. Were told no problem (?!)How can less blood flow not cause a problem?

    Sublingual B6/PLP/P5P helps.

    Head of child psych (years ago...MAJOR midwest hosp.) said glucose not getting to frontal lobe = ADHD.)Brain needs an amazing amt. of glucose ongoing. In a jam, ketones can substitute. (Rent the DVD called "First Do No Harm". Figure out WHY Johns Hopkins Ketogenic diet cured the young boy. Dangerous kidney wise!)

    Ultrasound (fasting!) of gall bladder x2 showed it was contracted. Shouldn't be.

    At lowest point, his total cholesterol was 76 (not a typo).

    Depression and anxiety - often. Adverse reaction to SSRIs.

    Depakote = fatty liver.

    Caprylic acid is THE "key" active ingredient in the "medicinal food" called Axona. Converts to the ketone, BHB in the liver. Crosses the blood brain barrier and enters the brain cells' citric acid cycle -> more ATP (the goal).


    Am currently studying Vanadium (implication). Is the body trying a "work around" - sub for insulin? Drives chromium lower. Hummm.

    The body is very complex.

  9. Post script: OmegaBrite (Omega 3) helps significantly. It is very high in EPA (anti-inflammatory function) and has some DHA (structural function). Dr. Stoll, Harvard, says we need both, but EPA especially. Ongoing inflammation is bad...very bad. This product is unlike any other. It is available in children's doses.

    Vanadium *excess* in the blood = depression. Vanadium *excess* in the hair = manic. Yes, bipolar. Vitamin C helps (supposedly) to clear excess. When bipolar under control, vanadium levels return to normal.

    Be very careful using this trace (but necessary) mineral, IMO.

    Vandium linked to kidney problems and it may interfere with the Na pump (inhibit Na,K ATPase). Green tea might help protect the kidneys.

    Vanadate can be bioequivalent to phosphate and *replace it* in cellular metabolism.PMID: 16307529

    We found that only vanadium-contaminated ATP induced loss of muscarinic binding sites.

    Humm...vanadium *contaminated* ATP (our energy carrier)...?!

    See key teaching points here (notice impact on cholesterol):