Reduced levels of plasma polyunsaturated fatty acids and serum carnitine in autistic children: relation to gastrointestinal manifestations

Behav Brain Funct. 2015 Feb 7;11:4. doi: 10.1186/s12993-014-0048-2.


Background: Gastrointestinal (GI) manifestations are common in autistic children. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and carnitine are anti-inflammatory molecules and their deficiency may result in GI inflammation. The relationship between the increased frequency of GI manifestations and reduced levels of PUFAs and carnitine was not previously investigated in autistic patients. This study was the first to investigate plasma levels of PUFAs and serum carnitine in relation to GI manifestations in autistic children.

Methods: Plasma levels of PUFAs (including linoleic, alphalinolenic, arachidonic "AA" and docosahexaenoic "DHA" acids) and serum carnitine were measured in 100 autistic children and 100 healthy-matched children.

Results: Reduced levels of serum carnitine and plasma DHA, AA, linolenic and linoleic acids were found in 66%, 62%, 60%, 43% and 38%, respectively of autistic children. On the other hand, 54% of autistic patients had elevated ω6/ω3 ratio. Autistic patients with GI manifestations (48%) had significantly decreased levels of serum carnitine and plasma DHA than patients without such manifestations. In addition, autistic patients with GI manifestations had significantly increased percentage of reduced serum carnitine (91.7%) and plasma DHA levels (87.5%) than patients without such manifestations (42.3% and 38.5%, respectively), (P < 0.001 and P < 0.001%, respectively).

Conclusions: Reduced levels of plasma DHA and serum carnitine levels may be associated with the GI problems in some autistic patients. However, this is an initial report, studies are recommended to invesigate whether reduced levels of carnitine and DHA are a mere association or have a pathogenic role in GI problems in autistic patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / etiology
  • Autistic Disorder / blood*
  • Autistic Disorder / complications*
  • Carnitine / blood*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Constipation / etiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diarrhea / etiology
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / blood*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / blood*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / complications*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Carnitine