“80% Of Kids With Autism Have Mitochondrial Dysfunction.”- Dr Richard Frye
Treating Autism And Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Energy governs everything we do:
- Fighting Infections
- And EVERYTHING Else
Without efficient, healthy mitochondria, any healing or progress is impaired. Not only that, life itself is affected.
Whether or not our kids have the energy to want to go out and have an adventure, learn in school, or just be curious and play as kids should do is all dependent on energy made by the mitochondria.
Studies show that up to 80% kids with autism have mitochondrial dysfunction. This means they may lack the energy they need to play, learn, communicate, make friends, and even sleep through the night.
Needless to say, our kids need support, so they can feel their best and have a great childhood!
In this post, I will discuss:
- What mitochondria are & Why they’re important
- What is mitochondrial dysfunction
- How to test, treat, & support our children
What Are Mitochondria
The mitochondria are very important parts of most cells in our body. From brain and nerve cells to heart and fat cells, the mitochondria play critical roles in maintaining overall health.
Mitochondria’s Many Jobs
- Produce Energy
- Govern Apoptosis (cell death)
- Regulate/Store Calcium
- Steroid & Heme Synthesis
- Cellular Homeostasis
- Insulin Control
- Control Reactive Oxygen Species
- Regulate Stem Cells
Back in middle school our teachers taught us that the mitochondria are the “powerhouse of the cell” because they are the parts of the cell that produce energy (ATP).
The mitochondria’s main job is energy production and they can do this in different ways.
One way is efficient and clean, like a solar power plant, but the other is inefficient and dirty, like a coal power plant.
We want our energy production to be as clean as possible because then, our kids should have the energy to heal and progress. In order to achieve this, we have to make sure the mitochondria are protected from things that could hurt them while providing them with all the nutrients they need to do their job well.
Apoptosis: Mito’s “Other Job”
After energy production, apoptosis is probably the most important job of the mitochondria. Apoptosis is the body’s way of clearing out old, tired, or damaged cells.
Of course, we don’t want our healthy cells to die, but cells that are damaged from toxins, pathogens or mutations may not be able to do its job.
When this happens the mitochondria should recognize the situation and trigger the cell to die. This allows for new healthy cells to move and take their place.
Think of apoptosis as general maintenance for the body. Just as you would change the oil in your car or replace an air filter on your AC. Getting rid of old damaged cells helps the body run smoothly.
What Happens When Apoptosis Fails
If the mitochondria are weak or can’t trigger apoptosis when it’s needed, that can lead to lots of problems for the body as well.
Poor Functioning Of Apoptosis Can Lead To:
- Inflammation & Inflammation-Related Disease
- Poor Immune Function & Autoimmune Disease
- Heart Attack
- Premature Aging
Treating Autism And Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Mitochondrial Disease vs. Mitochondrial Dysfunction
We are discussing mitochondrial dysfunction and not necessarily mitochondrial disease. Mito disease is a little more serious, and there are well-defined strict criteria for a patient to be diagnosed with mitochondrial disease.
For our purposes, we will be talking about mito dysfunction, which basically means your mitochondria are not functioning as well as they should.
Signs & Symptoms Of Mitochondrial Dysfunction
When the body and brain do not have enough energy to do their jobs, you can get a variety of symptoms. Oftentimes, you’ll end up with symptoms in 2 or 3 different systems of the body.
For example, if the colon lacks sufficient energy to push stool out, the child can struggle with constipation. At the same time, the child may have a weak grasp or low muscle tone.
But My Kid Has Tons Of Energy
Sometimes mitochondrial dysfunction can present as chronic fatigue or low energy in general. However, another big sign is sustained energy.
Does the child have energy after an activity or a 30 minute burst of hyperactive craziness?
How does your kid do after jumping around at a trampoline park for an hour, or playing a game of soccer? If he/she crashes for hours afterward that is also a sign of mito dysfunction.
Common Symptoms Of Mitochondrial Dysfunction
- Chronic fatigue
- Low energy
- Lack of endurance or stamina
- Migraines/frequent headaches
- Longer to recover from illness or regression during illness
- Poor posture
- Weak pencil grasp
- Persistent drooling
- In Babies: a weak “suck” , or unable or struggle to hold themselves up (head bobbing..etc)
- Hearing Impairment
- Low muscle tone/general weakness
- Small Stature
- GI symptoms (poor digestion, diarrhea, constipation, bloating…etc)
- Many Others
Common Sign Of Mitochondrial Dysfunction In Kids With Autism
Kids on the spectrum can exhibit many of the physical symptoms listed about, but they may also show other signs that are more unique to autism, ADD, and other neurodevelopmental conditions.
Symptoms Of Mito Dysfunction In Autism
- Speech & Language Delays/Impairments
- Social Impairment
- Attention and Focus Challenges
- OCD-Like Behaviors/Thoughts
- Cognitive Delays
- Slow Processing
- And Many Others
Poor or Non Responders: Another Sign?
There are many kids, like my son, who are referred to as nonresponders or who may have seen regressions of developed other symptoms as a result of a treatment protocol(s).
I think this could be another sign there are mitochondrial issues present. Perhaps, the body just didn’t have enough energy to deal with that protocol.
As you can see, the list of possible signs of mito dysfunction are pretty far reaching, so having at least a little bit of mito support on board might help. But, why do we see such a wide variety of symptoms?
Treating Autism And Mitochondrial Dysfunction
What Is Causing These Symptoms?
Even when the mitochondria are producing energy efficiently, there’s still a fair amount of waste that needs to be handled. Energy production is the number 1 site of endogenous (internal) free radical generation.
As long as there are enough antioxidants to counteract those free radicals, then everything is fine. However, the more inefficiently the mitochondria run, the more free radicals and oxidative stress are created. This quickly overruns the body’s build in antioxidant defense.
Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant. Unfortunately, most kids with autism already have low glutathione, so they are overrun by this oxidative stress much quicker than those with sufficient glutathione.
Without a good defense, you start getting free radical damage, inflammation, and inconsistent energy flow, and this leads to the array of symptoms we see in mitochondrial dysfunction.
Potential Causes Of Mitochondrial Dysfunction
“If cells don’t get the nutrients they need and are protected from toxins, your mitochondria will not produce enough energy or will not produce energy efficiently. This will set up a cascade of dysfunctional biochemical reactions eventually leading in chronic disease.” – Dr Terry Wahls: The Wahls Protocol
The mitochondria are very sensitive to their environment. Anything that stresses the body also stresses the mitochondria.
Causes Of Mitochondrial Dysfunction
- Sugar, Processed foods, & Poor Diet
- GMOs & Glyphosate
- Toxins (both internal and external)
- Poor Digestion\Nutrient Deficiencies
- Gut Infections (candida, SIBO, parasites…etc)
- Lack Of Sleep
- OTC/Px drugs
- EMFs & WiFi
- A whole lot more
Testing For Mitochondrial Dysfunction
There are a few ways that your doctor can test the performance of the mitochondria without the need for a muscle biopsy (as is the case for mitochondrial disease).
Keep in mind, these tests can be unreliable. If test results look okay, many doctors will retest OR they’ll retest when the child is sick or under stress.
Common Tests For Mitochondrial Function:
- Blood testing: Complete metabolic profile (Chem 20), lactate, pyruvate, amino acids, creatine kinase, ammonia, total and free carnitine, acylcarnitine profile
- Urine testing: organic acids
- Other Testing: MRI, EKG, echocardiogram, eye exam, hearing exam
- Mito Swab: (a newer test involving a simple oral swab, but mainstream docs are unlikely to use this test)
Supporting Your Mitochondria
You Can’t Simply Fix The Mitochondria
Unfortunately, you can’t just fix the mitochondria. You have to look upstream and see what is causing them to run inefficiently to begin with. Once you (and your doctor) treat those underlying causes, then your mitochondria can start running smoothly again.
I’ll say that again:
You have to ask the question, “why isn’t the mitochondria working properly?”
Answering this question will allow you to figure out the best way to support your child’s healing and progress.
Take Care Of The Basics First
The very first thing you want to do to improve your mitochondria is take care of the basics.
You can have all the best quality supplements for your mitochondria, but if you’re not implementing the basic practices for good health, you’re probably not going to notice a big difference.
You can’t out supplement a bad diet or an unhealthy lifestyle.
The Foundations Of Health & Healing
- Nourishing GFCF Diet
- Low Toxin Lifestyle
- Stress Management
- Movement & Exercise
Treating Autism And Mitochondrial Dysfunction
It All Starts With Diet
If you’re still eating gluten, casein, and soy, then the first step towards a nourishing diet is removing these foods. All 3 are terrible for the mitochondria because they are inflammatory, impact your brain and cognition, and hurt your gut health.
Check the links below if you want to learn more on the optimal diet for mitochondria and overall health.
- A Parent’s Complete Guide To The GFCF Diet
- 10 Foods That Cause Inflammation And Make Behaviors Worse
- Can The Autism Diet Help My Child?
|Need Help Starting A Nourishing GFCF Diet?
My GFCF Family Class will teach you everything you need to know.
Plus, because you’re reading this, you can get 25% off (use coupon code mito25).
Find A Qualified Doctor
As you work on the foundation listed above, you also want to find a MAPS, functional or integrative medical doctor or naturopath to help guide your child’s treatment.
No one should do this on their own.
You want to ensure everything you do is safe and mitigate any risk for your family.
These doctors will also work to identify underlying medical issues that can be driving your child’s challenges. They’ll look for signs of a toxic overload, allergies, food sensitivities, chronic infections…etc.
Where To Find A Good Doctor
Nutrients That May Improve Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Mitochondria can either fuel progress or stop it in its tracks, so you want to support the mitochondria even as you work on the underlying causes. If the body doesn’t have the energy to do what you want it to do, then you may never progress.
For example, if your doctor identifies a heavy metal burden that may be causing mitochondrial dysfunction, then they’ll put you on a detoxification protocol. But, your body cannot detoxify if it doesn’t have the energy to do so.
Therefore, you want to support the mitochondria the best you can in order to give your child the best chance of success and healing.
Mito Cocktail For Autism (per Johns Hopkins)
- L-Carnitine 50 mg/kg/d
- CoQ10 10 mg/kg/d
- Vitamin C 30 mg/kg/d
- Vitamin E 25 IU/kg/d
- Vitamin B5 10mg/kg/d
- Alpha Lipoic Acid 10 mg/kg/d
*That’s mg per kg of body weight. Just ask Google to convert pounds to kg and then do the quick math to get your dose according to Johns Hopkins*
Treating Autism And Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Top 2 Nutrients For Mitochondrial Support
Carnitine and CoQ10 are probably the 2 most important nutrients for mitochondrial health.
Carnitine is the only molecule that can transport fats to the mitochondria. Since fats are the preferred fuel source of the mitochondria, it’s quite important to have plenty of L-carnitine or acetyl L carnitine to actually be able to use fat for energy.
Speaking of fats, the ketogenic diet appears to be a great way to support the mitochondria, and many parents are reporting success using it for their child’s autism. You can learn more in this post.
Carnitine And Autism
A lot of kids with autism have low levels of carnitine, and adding in supplemental carnitine makes a lot of sense. Especially if you consider the other benefits it can offer.
L-carnitine is also important for detoxification, and it’s neuroprotective. It may even accelerate the regeneration of neurons.
It’s no wonder that studies of L-carnitine show improvements in health, behavior, and other ASD symptoms.
“CoQ10 is arguably the most important nutrient for mitochondrial health.” -Dr Lee Know, Mitochondria And The Future Of Medicine
CoQ10 plays a major role in energy production for the mitochondria. However, it is also a powerful antioxidant.
Remember, free radicals are predominantly created inside the mitochondria during energy production. The less efficient the mitochondria are running, the more oxidative stress they create.
CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant, and it’s the first line of defense for the mitochondria.
A third of the CoQ10 found inside the mitochondria are there strictly to counteract the free radicals created there.
Additionally, CoQ10 is
- Anti inflammatory
- Responsible for regulating apoptosis
- Can lower blood pressure
- Cardioprotective (heart)
CoQ10 And Autism
Studies have shown improvements for kids with autism using ubiquinol. Communication, social skills, sleep, and even picky eating was improved after supplemental CoQ10.
No one really knows why exactly CoQ10 had these effects for kids with autism. I suspect it could be due to lower oxidative stress, reduced inflammation, or increased mental capacity that more energy can offer. (or a combination of all 3)
However, kids with autism have nutrient deficiencies and various blocked biochemical pathways that inhibit the body’s ability to make CoQ10. For parents, we produce less and less as we age.
For those reasons, both parents and kids with autism can benefit from supplemental CoQ10.
Supplementing With CoQ10
There’s no shortage of CoQ10 on the market today, but there are huge differences in quality and effectiveness. I would stick with a brand you trust. If you aren’t familiar with brands, I’d ask around on FB groups, friends, doctors..etc.
How Much CoQ10 Should You Take?
In his book, Dr Lee Know recommends between 600-3000mg a day divided into several doses.
But, talk with your doctor before starting and get recommendations on dosages.
In general, ubiquinol is better absorbed than ubiquinone.
Other Important Nutrients For Mitochondrial Health
The mitochondria need a ton of nutrients to do their job effectively. Since many kids with autism have deficiencies in many of those nutrients, it may be worthwhile to supplement with a few of the following supplements.
Mitochondria Support Supplements:
Other Mitochondria Support Strategies
- Ketogenic Diet
- Cold Therapy
- Methylation Support
- Low Glutamate Diet
- CBD Oil
The mitochondria are quite important to the health and healing of your child. Any potential progress can either be enhanced or impaired depending on how much mental and physical energy the body has.
Kids with autism are very likely to have at least some impairment in their mitochondrial function. However, mitochondrial dysfunction is probably not the real problem. There is likely to be underlying medical issues that are preventing the mitochondria from running as they should.
It is worthwhile to work closely with your doctor to figure out how to support the mitochondria as you work to remedy those potential conditions.
Do You Want To Learn Even More About
Autism And Mitochondrial Dysfunction?
If you’re a parent like me who wants to learn as much as possible to help your child, then there is a whole lot more information packed inside my Ebook: “Mitochondrial Dysfunction & Autism”
Learn: The science behind:
- How the mitochondria work
- What happens if there are blocks in energy production
- How mitochondrial dysfunction affects the brain and your child’s ability to learn and process
- The nutrients needed to combat oxidative stress
- The nutrients needed to build better mitochondria
- Other mito support strategies like CBD, cold therapy, & keto
Save Yourself Time!
This EBook is a shortcut. Instead of spending weeks, months, or even years trying to learn these important concepts, read Mitochondrial Dysfunction & Autism and you’ll be well on your way to knowing how to really help your child.
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Further Learning & References
- Mitochondria And The Future Of Medicine: Dr Lee Know
- Head Strong: Dave Asprey
- The Wahls’ Protocol: Dr Terry Wahls
- Dirty Genes: Dr Ben Lynch
- Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Part 1 of 2 Dr Suzanne Goh
- Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Part 2 of 2 Dr Suzanne Goh
- Folate Metabolism, Mitochondrial Disease and ASD – Richard Frye, M.D., Ph.D.
- Metabolic Disorders Associated with Autism – Dr Richard Frye
- Mitochondrial Function in Autism: A Parent Seminar
- Electron Transport Chain (Oxidative Phosphorylation)
Blogs, Websites, Studies
- Mitochondrial dysfunction and autism spectrum disorders: a simplified approach
- A guide to mitochondrial disease for patients and parents
- Symptoms of Mitochondrial Dysfunction
- Mitochondrial dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis
- Evidence linking oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and inflammation in the brain of individuals with autism
- Mitochondrial dysfunction can connect the diverse medical symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorders
- Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Autism
- Evidence of Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Autism: Biochemical Links, Genetic-Based Associations, and Non-Energy-Related Mechanisms
- Children with autism have mitochondrial dysfunction, study finds
- Ubiquinol improves symptoms in children with autism
- Coenzyme Q 10 Supplementation Reduces Oxidative Stress and Decreases Antioxidant Enzyme Activity in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Autistic Children and Oral Coenzyme Q10 Supplementation Treatment
- Effect of a Combination of Carnitine, Coenzyme Q10 and Alpha-Lipoic Acid (MitoCocktail) on Mitochondrial Function and Neurobehavioral Performance in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (P3.313)
- Coenzyme Q10: Learn about an important nutrient that is often recommended and taken in patients with a variety of neurological a
- Effects of l-Carnitine in Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Review of Clinical Studies
- Autism and carnitine: A possible link
- l-Carnitine supplementation improves the behavioral symptoms in autistic children
- Defects in carnitine metabolism may underlie autism
- (PDF) Biochemical Effects of Ribose and NADH Therapy in Children with Autism
- Therapies to improve biochemical functions hold promise as treatments for people with autism
- Understanding D-Ribose and Mitochondrial Function
- Ketone Bodies in Neurological Diseases: Focus on Neuroprotection and Underlying Mechanisms
- Potential Therapeutic Use of the Ketogenic Diet in Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Studies Show Efficacy of Keto for Autism
- Ketogenic Diet and GABA Connection, Gut Health, Brain Fog
- Ketogenic diet helps tame flu virus
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