“CHILDHOOD autism may be linked to a deficiency of fish oils, researchers in Scotland have found.
The exact causes of the developmental disorder, which can hamper communication and social interaction, remain unknown.
However, it is thought that genetic factors or a variety of conditions affecting brain development may be a factor.
Now the results of a pilot study suggest the behaviour of fatty acids in the blood of children with autism may differ from that of other youngsters.
Researchers from Stirling and Edinburgh universities, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, and South Glasgow University Hospitals NHS Trust have been awarded £125,335 by the Chief Scientist Office to fund further research to support their findings.
They will gauge blood fatty acid levels in 50 children with autism and compare them to those of non-autistic children.
Dr Gordon Bell, of Stirling University, said: “Fatty acids are required for the optimal function of cells and organs such as the brain and eyes as well as for fighting off infection.
“Our preliminary research shows that levels of an enzyme involved in fatty acid metabolism may be higher in children with autism and therefore these children may metabolise fatty acids quicker.”
Dr Anne O’Hare, of Edinburgh University, added: “The number of children diagnosed with autism has increased dramatically over the past 10 years, both in Scotland and in the developed world as a whole.
“We hope that his new research will lead to the development of treatments for managing autism in children.”
John McDonald, head of the Scottish Society for Autism, said that any research that adds more information to help improve understanding of the condition is welcome.