Are High Folate and Vitamin B12 Linked to Low Thiamine in Autism and Other Disorders?

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Autism is now classified as an epidemic in the United States. It can only be understood by first recognizing that it is caused by biochemical changes in the brain. There are only two ways in which these changes are brought about. One is genetics. The other is nutrition. The focus of research has been almost exclusively in terms of genetics. Very little has been said about nutrition. A recent epidemiological study found elevated concentrations of folate and vitamin B12 during pregnancy associated with autism. In this post I want to discuss the potential relationship of autism with B vitamins. In order to introduce the subject, I must digress.

High Folate and Vitamin B12 in the Face of Other Vitamin Deficiencies

Many years ago I was confronted by the case of a six-year-old child who had been suffering from an extraordinarily common problem for approximately two years. He would develop a sore throat, fever and swollen glands in the neck. Of course, these episodes had always been treated with antibiotics as infections but there was no valid explanation of why they were repeated. His case had been reviewed at prestigious medical institutions and he had been admitted to a hospital when, during a febrile episode, a gland in the neck was removed for biopsy. The report arrested my attention, because it was described as “a swollen gland whose architecture was otherwise normal”. Another part that arrested my attention was that his diet was appalling, full of sugar, so I had a blood test performed that showed that he was vitamin B1 deficient. But there was another strange association. Folate, a B vitamin and vitamin B12, also a B vitamin, both had very high concentrations in the blood. This had been discovered at the same hospital where the gland had been removed.

The doctor had told the child’s mother about this and accused her of giving the child too many vitamins. She was very perplexed because she denied that she had been giving any vitamins, but they would not believe her. Because of this history, I performed the same tests and both these vitamins were indeed elevated in the blood. Because of the sugar association and the finding of vitamin B1 deficiency, I treated the child with megadoses of thiamine (vitamin B1) and sent him home. To my great surprise, not only did his health improve drastically, his feverish episodes ceased and the repeat of the blood tests showed that the levels of folate and vitamin B12 had fallen into the normal range.

I asked the mother to stop the vitamin B1 which she did reluctantly. Three or four weeks later the child had another episode of swollen glands in the neck with fever. The mother also reported that he had sleep walked and, going downstairs, he had urinated spontaneously. Of course, this implicated a mechanism in the brain. I readmitted him to the hospital and I found that the folate and B12 levels had again shot up. I treated him with thiamine again. The fever and swollen glands remitted and the levels of folate and B 12 dropped again into the normal range. Well, of course, this was a natural experiment that sent me to the library to try to come up with an explanation of the relationship between these three B vitamins. It appears to be an important phenomenon because recently, a paper has been produced in which folate and B 12 have both been found to be increased over the normal range in autism.

The Engines in the Body

First of all, I had to try to explain why there was a very obvious response to the megadose thiamine. One thing that I had learned is that the part of the brain that deals with a defense against stress becomes very irritable when cellular metabolism becomes inefficient. Thiamine deficiency in that part of the brain produces the same action as a mild to moderate lack of oxygen, because both spell “danger”. When a bacterial or viral infection attacks us, we go into a defensive mode. This is, of course, the illness. The fever makes the action of the microorganism less efficient. Swollen glands are created to catch the dead microorganisms as they are washed into the lymphatic system. My hypothetical explanation is that the thiamine deficiency created brain irritability that repeatedly went into a defensive mode under the false impression that the child was being attacked by a microorganism.

The Transmission in the Body

This again is a hypothesis and I must digress again. Let us take a car as an example of a machine. The engine produces energy and that energy is passed through a transmission that enables the car to go into action. Bewildering as it may seem, the human body is a chemical machine and we can only understand how it functions by understanding the chemistry. As I have said many times in this forum, thiamine has the responsibility of producing energy. It is exactly like a spark plug in a car engine. But because the human body is also a machine, it has to have the equivalent of a transmission. To put it simply, energy is produced by thiamine and stored in the form of a chemical substance known as ATP. Without going into the technological details, ATP is consumed by releasing energy used to drive the transmission that enables bodily functions. The transmission is an energy consuming series of chemical changes known as transmethylation. These chemical changes require folic acid and vitamin B12. Because of thiamine deficiency the ability to produce ATP was compromised. This resulted in lack of energy that affected the transmission. Folic acid and vitamin B12 simply collected in the blood because because they were not being used. As soon as thiamine restoration took place, the transmission became more efficient and the folate and B12 were consumed in the action.

What Has This to Do with Autism ?

The present disease model states that each disease has a unique cause that demands a unique treatment. Genetic research has revealed thousands of possible gene mutations involved in the underlying cause of autism and I have no doubt that this produces variations on a common theme, perhaps explaining why each child with autism is unique in his own right. Thiamine deficiency can express itself in many different ways, depending on which part of the brain is affected. If it can express itself in repeated episodes that exactly imitate a throat infection in one individual and autism in another, we surely have to change how we see health and disease. Both thiamine and vitamin D deficiency have been described in the medical literature as a cause of autism. I have concluded that anything that interferes with an efficient use of oxygen in the brain creates symptoms that may well be interpreted as “psychological”. Most gene mutations don’t have an effect on their own. Serious prolonged stress and/or vitamin deficient malnutrition may have to be present for the disease to be expressed.

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5 Comments

  1. Really interesting article, as am currently looking into this area for myself. Please could you give me the reference for the paper you refer to in your article as below ;

    “recently, a paper has been produced in which folate and B 12 have both been found to be increased over the normal range in autism”.

    Thank you in advance!

  2. What an excellent article. I appreciate the simple manner you use to explain this biochemical process. I believe this applies to my 12 year old daughter. It lines up with her lab work and symptoms. Thank you!

  3. Fascinating article. I’m an autistic adult whose sensory challenges were greatly exacerbated in response to certain medical treatments. My b12 levels have been elevated every time they’ve been tested. They’re usually around 1080-1200 pg/mL with a reference range of 213-816 pg/mL. I don’t take b12 supplements or get b12 injections. At the times my levels were tested I followed a plant based diet. None of the physicians I’ve seen have been able to explain the elevated b12, so they dismiss it as a clinically insignificant anomaly or alternately insist I must be lying about supplementation. I’m curious as to whether elevated b12 might have something to do mast cells. There’s a doctor at Tufts, Dr. Theoharides, who thinks mast cell activation is behind some types of autism. Thoughts?

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