Do salt cravings in children with autistic disorders reveal low blood sodium depleting brain taurine and glutamine?
Because boys are four times more likely than girls to develop autism, the role of male hormones (androgens) has received considerable scrutiny. Some researchers implicate arginine vasopressin, an androgen-dependent hormone from the pituitary gland that elicits male behavior. Elevated vasopressin is also the most common cause of low blood sodium (hyponatremia)--most serious in the brains of children. Hyponatremia causes astrocytes to swell, then release the amino acids taurine and glutamine and their water to compensate. Taurin--the brain osmolyte/inhibitory neurotransmitter that suppresses vasopressin--was the amino acid most wasted or depleted in urine of autistic children. Glutamine is a critical metabolic fuel in brain neurons, astrocytes, endothelial cells, and the intestines, especially during hypoglycemia. Because glutamine is not thought to cross the blood-brain barrier significantly, the implications of low blood glutamine in these children are not recognized. Yet children with high brain glutamine from urea cycle disorders are rarely diagnosed with autistic disorders. Other common events in autistic children that release vasopressin are gastrointestinal inflammation, hypoglycemia, and stress. Signs of hyponatremia in these children are salt cravings reported online and anecdotally, deep yellow urine revealing concentration, and relief of autistic behavior by fluid/salt diets. Several interventions offer promise: (a) taurine to suppress vasopressin and replenish astrocytes; (b) glutamine as fuel for intestines and brain; (c) arginine to spare glutamine, detoxify ammonia, and increase brain blood flow; and (d) oral rehydration salts to compensate dilutional hyponatremia. This hypothesis appears eminently testable: Does your child crave salt? Is his urine deep yellow?