Serum copper and zinc levels in autism

New collaborative research from Mudanjiang Medical University in China and researchers based in Norway* have reported issues with the trace minerals copper and zinc to be potentially important for some people on the autism spectrum.

Based on an analysis of serum levels of such trace elements in Chinese children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), researchers reported finding significantly lower levels of circulating zinc and higher levels of copper. Putting such values together and calculating a zinc/copper ratio, they also reported a lower ratio to be present compared with an asymptomatic sex and age-matched group. They concluded that such findings may serve as an important biomarker for further testing in relation to autism.

This is not the first time that zinc and copper levels have been measured and issues detected in relation to cases of autism. Lower zinc levels have been independently reported by various other groups, crossing geographies and age groups on the autism spectrum. Zinc is involved in a variety of biological processes from wound healing to immune system processes. Importantly, supplies of zinc need continual replenishment given the lack of any specialised biological storage system in the body. Copper also has some biological benefit although an increased body burden is not necessarily a good thing.

An imbalance in the ratio of zinc and copper has been reported in other cases of autism and linked to issues with important metabolic pathways such as those involved with metallothionein linked to the binding of metals and involvement with oxidative stress. Further investigations are indicated in these areas.


* Li SO. et al. Serum copper and zinc levels in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Neuroreport. 2014 Aug 26.

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