Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin for healthy brain function. It is important in helping to manufacture the myelin sheath which acts as a protective layer surrounding nerves in the brain and allows for extremely quick transmission of neural messages. It helps the brain to produce neurotransmitters, which are vital for communication within the brain. Some research has noted that among the many possible causes behind autism a thin myelin is a common symptom. Some believe that autism can be caused or symptoms worsened by severe nutritional deficiencies. What this means is that the body is not receiving enough of certain vitamins, or that it is not able to absorb the nutrients that are fed through the system; causing the body to lack the essential elements it needs to function properly. Recent research shows that more than 50% of children with autism have GI symptoms, food allergies, and maldigestion or malabsorption issues.
Altered intestinal permeability was found in 43% of autistic patients, but not found in any of the healthy control subjects. Intestinal permeability, commonly referred to as the “leaky gut”, means that there are significantly large spaces present between the cells of the gut wall. When these large spaces exist in the small intestine, it allows undigested food and other toxins to enter the blood stream. When incompletely broken down foods enter the body, the immune system mounts an attack against the “foreigner” resulting in food allergies, inflammation and sensitivities. This constant aggravated inflammation is an incredible uncomfortable experience for the individual.
This process also halts the absorption and utilization of vitamins and minerals, resulting in deficiency and its subsequent consequences. The deficiency further aggravates the well being of the autistic individual, and causes a sleuth of unpleasant symptoms. The food particles which pass through the wall cause the release of antibodies which trigger inflammatory reactions when the foods are eaten again. The chronic inflammation lowers IgA levels, which are needed to protect the intestinal tract from bacteria and yeast. The decreasing IgA levels allow for even further microbe proliferation in the intestinal tract. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are also found due to the leaky gut problem.
An example of the problems created by the vitamin deficiencies that occur within a leaky gut is vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 absorption is inhibited early in this process as microbes enter the small intestine because B12 is absorbed in the ileum (last section of the small intestine). Another important function of B12 is repairing damaged, flattened microvilli. With sufficient B12 and folic acid in the bloodstream, the intestinal cells and microvilli can rejuvenate every 3-4 days.
In a healthy intestinal tract the small intestine and stomach are not inhabited by bacteria. When the flora balance in the colon is lost, the microbes can migrate into the small intestine and stomach, which hampers digestion. The microbes compete for nutrients and their waste products overrun the intestinal tract. One of the toxins produced by yeast is actually an enzyme that allows the yeast to bore into the intestinal wall. The yeast also produce other toxins such as organic acids, which can also damage the intestinal wall.
In the case of malabsorption, undigested carbohydrates left over in the small intestine cause the body to draw water into the intestinal tract. This pushes the undigested carbohydrates into the colon where the microbes can feast on it, and allows for even more proliferation of the unwanted microbes and continued increase in malabsorption problems. Low intestinal carbohydrate digestive enzyme activity was found in 43% of patients with autism. Recent studies point out that ongoing carbohydrate malabsorption keeps the digestive system constantly weakened, leading to systemic disorders. The vicious cycle of malabsorption, inflammation and food allergies seen in children with autism can be broken with B12 supplementation, beginning a cycle of healthy digestion which assists with the child’s overall well being.
Obviously the use of oral b12 supplementation is out of the question as it would not absorb and assimilate in the body. Injections are an extremely viable option but not when the patient has extreme sensitivity to touch, as is common in autism.