Autism: Nourishing the Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers which transmit signals across nerve cells, have a marked affect on our behavior. For those with autism, the focus is on those neurotransmitters which are involved with memory, attention, learning, and emotion.
Below are nutrients which are 1) converted into neurotransmitters and 2) necessary for the formation of the neurotransmitters.
Amino Acid proteins:
Tryptophan. Tryptophan is important as it is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is involved with memory, appetite, sleep. Too little serotonin can lead to depression and an overall loss of well-being. Because tryptophan cannot be produced within the body, it must be acquired through the diet. The suggested daily amount of tryptophan is 340 milligrams (mg) for both males and females.
Tyrosine. Tyrosine is the precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine and is involved with attention, learning, and motivation. Dopamine, in turn, produces nor-epinephrine which is a contributor to learning, sleep, and emotions. The suggested daily amount of tyrosine is 6.8 grams for both males and females. Tyrosine can essentially be seen as the precursor to attention, learning, motivation, sleep, and emotions.
Phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is similar to tyrosine as it is also a precursor to dopamine. In fact, tyrosine is made from phenylalanine. The suggested daily amount of phenylalanine is 6.8 grams for both males and females. Phenylalanine and tyrosine go hand-in-hand and the benefits they can collectively provide go beyond words. Unless contraindicated, autistic individuals should emphasize these three (3) amino acids because of their strong associations with serotonin, dopamine, and nor-epinephrine.
Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is very important as it is necessary for the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin (see above). The U.S. Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for vitamin B6 is 1.3-1.7 mg for adults and 0.5-0.6 mg for children ages 1-8 years.
Magnesium. Like vitamin B6, magnesium is also a required co-nutrient necessary for the tryptophan-serotonin conversion. The U.S. Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for magnesium is 240-420 mg for adults and 80-130 mg for children ages 1-8 years.
Choline. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine is derived from the choline. Acetylcholine is involved with intellectual function and memory formation. An interesting note is the emerging preliminary research which correlates a lack of acetylcholine with autism. The U.S. Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for choline is 375-550 mg for adults and 200-250 mg for children ages 1-8 years.
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