Those living with diabetes know that “bread, cereal and sugary processed foods can cause rapid spikes and subsequent crashes” in blood sugar, making management of the disease more difficult. A recommended diet consisting of vegetables, fruits and whole grains is healthier. Partly, that’s because these foods take longer to digest and tend to keep blood sugar levels more stable.
Now, the findings of a research study published in Molecular Psychiatry show that low glycemic index diets – similar to the diets those with diabetes are advised to follow to keep their blood sugar “in check” – reduced symptoms of autism in mice. The data is preliminary and it’s not been tested in humans. Still, the research might offer some clues to understanding the causes of autism.
And that would be significant: rates of autism have risen “dramatically over the past two decades”…and for “reasons that are unclear.”
Could lifestyle changes make a difference?
“One thing that’s driving a lot of general physiological changes in people is changes in the diet,” says the study’s corresponding author Pamela Maher, a senior staff scientist in the laboratory of Professor David Schubert at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
The brains of mice fed a high-glycemic index diet “expressed more genes associated with inflammation, compared to the mice fed the low-glycemic index diet.” Studies of human mothers and children have focused on infection (which causes “a bout” of inflammation), as opposed to a high-glycemic index diet, which can cause “chronic, low-level inflammation.”
“In the new study, the Salk scientists used a mouse model of autism– an inbred strain of mouse previously found to display autism-like symptoms– to ask whether lowering the level of dicarbonyl methylglyoxal (a common byproduct of sugar metabolism) could alleviate symptoms of autism in the animals.
The scientists fed pregnant mice either the high or low glycemic index diet and kept their offspring on the same diet after birth and weaning, because their brains are still forming crucial connections.
The researchers then used a battery of behavioral and biochemical tests to study the mice after weaning. The two groups of animals consumed the same number of calories and were identical in weight. But mice that ate a high-glycemic index diet showed all of the expected behavioral symptoms of autism. Their social interactions were impaired; they repeated actions that served no apparent purpose; and they groomed extensively.”
The research team, based at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, plans to conduct additional research analyzing the gut bacteria and “its potential link with features of autism.” They will also further study the role of inflammation.
The study’s authors are Pamela Maher, Antonio Currais, Catherine Farrokhi, Richard Dargusch and Marie Goujon-Svrzic, of the Salk Institute.