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Mercury exposure, nutritional deficiencies and metabolic disruptions may affect learning in children

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      Among dietary factors, learning and behavior are influenced not only by nutrients, but also by exposure to toxic food contaminants such as mercury that can disrupt metabolic processes and alter neuronal plasticity. Neurons lacking in plasticity are a factor in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and mental retardation. Essential nutrients help maintain normal neuronal plasticity. Nutritional deficiencies, including deficiencies in the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, the amino acid methionine, and the trace minerals zinc and selenium, have been shown to influence neuronal function and produce defects in neuronal plasticity, as well as impact behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutritional deficiencies and mercury exposure have been shown to alter neuronal function and increase oxidative stress among children with autism. These dietary factors may be directly related to the development of behavior disorders and learning disabilities. Mercury, either individually or in concert with other factors, may be harmful if ingested in above average amounts or by sensitive individuals. High fructose corn syrup has been shown to contain trace amounts of mercury as a result of some manufacturing processes, and its consumption can also lead to zinc loss. Consumption of certain artificial food color additives has also been shown to lead to zinc deficiency. Dietary zinc is essential for maintaining the metabolic processes required for mercury elimination. Since high fructose corn syrup and artificial food color additives are common ingredients in many foodstuffs, their consumption should be considered in those individuals with nutritional deficits such as zinc deficiency or who are allergic or sensitive to the effects of mercury or unable to effectively metabolize and eliminate it from the body.

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      Most cited references 130

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      Selenium: biochemical role as a component of glutathione peroxidase.

      When hemolyzates from erythrocytes of selenium-deficient rats were incubated in vitro in the presence of ascorbate or H(2)O(2), added glutathione failed to protect the hemoglobin from oxidative damage. This occurred because the erythrocytes were practically devoid of glutathione-peroxidase activity. Extensively purified preparations of glutathione peroxidase contained a large part of the (75)Se of erythrocytes labeled in vivo. Many of the nutritional effects of selenium can be explained by its role in glutathione peroxidase.
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        Metabolism and functions of glutathione in brain.

         Ralf Dringen (2000)
        The tripeptide glutathione is the thiol compound present in the highest concentration in cells of all organs. Glutathione has many physiological functions including its involvement in the defense against reactive oxygen species. The cells of the human brain consume about 20% of the oxygen utilized by the body but constitute only 2% of the body weight. Consequently, reactive oxygen species which are continuously generated during oxidative metabolism will be generated in high rates within the brain. Therefore, the detoxification of reactive oxygen species is an essential task within the brain and the involvement of the antioxidant glutathione in such processes is very important. The main focus of this review article will be recent results on glutathione metabolism of different brain cell types in culture. The glutathione content of brain cells depends strongly on the availability of precursors for glutathione. Different types of brain cells prefer different extracellular glutathione precursors. Glutathione is involved in the disposal of peroxides by brain cells and in the protection against reactive oxygen species. In coculture astroglial cells protect other neural cell types against the toxicity of various compounds. One mechanism for this interaction is the supply by astroglial cells of glutathione precursors to neighboring cells. Recent results confirm the prominent role of astrocytes in glutathione metabolism and the defense against reactive oxygen species in brain. These results also suggest an involvement of a compromised astroglial glutathione system in the oxidative stress reported for neurological disorders.
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          Metabolic biomarkers of increased oxidative stress and impaired methylation capacity in children with autism.

          Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that usually presents in early childhood and that is thought to be influenced by genetic and environmental factors. Although abnormal metabolism of methionine and homocysteine has been associated with other neurologic diseases, these pathways have not been evaluated in persons with autism. The purpose of this study was to evaluate plasma concentrations of metabolites in the methionine transmethylation and transsulfuration pathways in children diagnosed with autism. Plasma concentrations of methionine, S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH), adenosine, homocysteine, cystathionine, cysteine, and oxidized and reduced glutathione were measured in 20 children with autism and in 33 control children. On the basis of the abnormal metabolic profile, a targeted nutritional intervention trial with folinic acid, betaine, and methylcobalamin was initiated in a subset of the autistic children. Relative to the control children, the children with autism had significantly lower baseline plasma concentrations of methionine, SAM, homocysteine, cystathionine, cysteine, and total glutathione and significantly higher concentrations of SAH, adenosine, and oxidized glutathione. This metabolic profile is consistent with impaired capacity for methylation (significantly lower ratio of SAM to SAH) and increased oxidative stress (significantly lower redox ratio of reduced glutathione to oxidized glutathione) in children with autism. The intervention trial was effective in normalizing the metabolic imbalance in the autistic children. An increased vulnerability to oxidative stress and a decreased capacity for methylation may contribute to the development and clinical manifestation of autism.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, ND, USA
            [2 ]Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences, Brooklyn College of CUNY, Brooklyn, NY, USA
            [3 ]Departments of Neuroscience and Ophthalmology, LSU Neuroscience Center. Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, LA, USA
            [4 ]Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, Tucson, AZ, USA
            [5 ]Department of Chemistry and Engineering Physics, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Platteville, WI, USA
            [6 ]Contributing Editor, Alternative Medicine Review, Durango, CO, USA
            [7 ]Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, MN, USA
            [8 ]Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders, 8232 14th Avenue NE, Seattle, WA, USA
            [9 ]Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV, USA
            Behav Brain Funct
            Behavioral and Brain Functions : BBF
            BioMed Central
            27 October 2009
            : 5
            : 44
            Copyright © 2009 Dufault et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.




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