Protein Deficiency and Autism

Dr. Brice E. Vickery
©2007 SuperNutrient Corporation

Autistic children have been identified with high toxic metal levels, low levels of metallothionein (MT), metallothionein (MT) systems that don’t work, low levels of glutathione and zinc, low levels of sulfur and malfunctioning digestive systems (including leaky gut and food allergies). Various different theories for the cause of these malfunctions are proposed: genetic predisposition, nutritional deficiencies in pregnancy or the toxic effects of infant immunizations. However this condition came about, the challenge remains to somehow enable these impaired systems to function normally.

Many recent studies have confirmed that all types of autism involve a malfunction in the part of the body’s system that deals with metal regulation. Certain metals such as iron, zinc and copper, are essential to the body, others such as cadmium, mercury, aluminum and lead are toxic. Too much or too little of any metal in the body will have a disrupting effect on the system. Not everything is understood about metal metabolism, but more studies are being done all the time that show the body’s use of certain metals to have significant effects on the health of the entire system. Recent autism studies have focused on a certain metal binding protein, metallothionein, (MT) which occurs in critically low levels in autistic children. MT has been shown to be heavily involved in the metal regulation of zinc and copper as well as the chelation of toxic metals such as cadmuim, mercury and lead. MT proteins also assist in immune function, neuronal development, heart protective functions, brain cell protective functions, liver cell proliferation and the breakdown of casein and gluten in the small intestine.

A huge component of the MT metal regulating system is the essential amino acid, cysteine. The entire MT is composed of sulfur and protein. One of the problems identified with autism is a digestive system that cannot fully break down all protein into its basic components, the amino acids; in turn, many necessary amino acids are unavailable to make systemic proteins such as MT. Remember also that essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, but must be obtained in the diet. MT manufacture requires sufficient amounts of: cysteine, serine, lysine, argenine, alanine, lysine, valine, aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, glutamine, proline, threonine, and methionine (also a sulfur containing amino acid). Exactly half of these are essential amino acids, and one–third of the total number of amino acids is made up of the sulfur–rich cysteine. Both glutathione and MT contain large amounts of sulfur. Sulfur is an essential mineral (meaning that it must be acquired through diet) that is necessary for many systemic functions. Sulfur is necessary for many enzyme reactions as well as modulation of the nervous system, maintenance and protection of the connective tissues, and support of liver detoxification.

In order for the MT system to work optimally, glutathione (a sulfur rich tripeptide) must be present in both a reduced (GSH) and oxidized (GSSG) state. A well–balanced redox ratio is important. For instance, in the case of the body being under high levels of oxidative stress, as is suspected in many autism cases, the GSSG levels rise causing a condition where too much zinc is released from the MT. The effect is the over inhibition of certain processes such as cellular respiration and the inhibition of certain enzymes in energy metabolism. Studies have shown that patients with depression, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimers, and autism are severely deficient in zinc. In a healthy system, zinc is the primary metal that is bound and released by MT. In a system challenged by too much copper, cadmium, mercury or lead, these metals will compete for the MT binding sites.

Many of the current therapies for autistic children involve amino acid and glutathione supplementation. The amino acid supplementation is usually protein specific; the 14 different amino acids in MT along with GSH are given orally to the children. The problem with oral GSH supplementation is that reduced glutathione (GSH) has a very high redox potential; somewhere between the mouth and the specific site in the body where GSH is needed, it will oxidize leaving GSSG which is not helpful unless it is in proper ratio to GSH. Alpha–lipoic acid is a more effective way to get the body to produce glutathione but it tends to cause an overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria in the gut. Glutathione and MT are systemic proteins and the best way to get the body to manufacture these is to enable it to fully digest its food, then it will create the proteins it needs, where it needs them, when it needs them.

Autistic people also show low levels of secretin and one of the current popular theories is that orally administering this hormone could clear up the poor digestion issues that are characteristic of autism. The digestive system is supposed to secrete this hormone when the stomach empties. It helps the stomach to produce digestive enzyme (pepsin), the pancreas to produce alkaline digestive fluids, and the liver to produce bile. However, there has only been one very small study (three children) demonstrating the successful use of this hormone with autism and it is unknown whether supplementation of this hormone over long periods of time would be harmful to the body.

Could it not be possible that the main problem in autism is a critical deficiency of systemic protein and sulfur in general? Secretin is a systemic protein. It is a polypeptide consisting of 27 amino acids. MT is a low molecular weight protein consisting of 61 amino acids, glutathione is a tripeptide of three amino acids, and sulfur is an essential mineral. In order for the proper components to be available for systemic proteins such as MT, glutathione and secretin, dietary protein must be completely broken down into amino acids. If this does not happen, the partially broken down proteins will simply irritate the system resulting in conditions such as diarrhea and allergic responses such as rashes, inflammation, and mood disorders. Partially broken down protein is not the same as amino acids and the body will not use it to make systemic protein. A body that cannot properly break down food will become protein deficient. If this protein deficiency continues then systemic malfunction will eventually occur. If food can be fully broken down then the systemic proteins will be available to create and support systemic proteins of all sorts.

If the body is not digesting its dietary protein it is because the pancreas is not producing the necessary digestive enzymes Dr. Brice Vickery addressed this problem in the early 1980’s when he found that all his patients with degenerative disk disease were also deficient in systemic protein and sulfur. Years of testing produced a blend of essential amino acids that actually enable the pancreas to produce the enzymes to break dietary protein into amino acids. These amino acids then recombine into systemic proteins that not only rebuild damaged spinal disks, but when used along with the Vickery Protocol have proven to allow the body to fix many other problems as well, such as metal toxicity. Vickery added extra organic sulfur and molybdenum to his blend to support phase II liver detox pathways, helping the body to flush toxins such as heavy metals out of the system.

At , posted charts show how quickly Platinum Plus Essential Amino Acids enable the system to completely flush mercury, lead, and aluminum from the body. Use of the Vickery Protocol along with Platinum Plus will cause GSH levels to rise dramatically and all sorts of systemic proteins will become available to the system, including immune system proteins like MT and hormones like secretin.