By Teresa Conrick
So here is my hypothesis. It includes both anecdotal evidence and published studies. If it is possible that redheads are more vulnerable to an autism diagnosis and therefore more prevalent on the autism spectrum, I believe that looking for the reasons for that could open doors on causation and possible treatments, not only for that population but for many others.
"Sepia eumelanin is associated with many metal ions, yet little is known about its metal binding capacity and the chemical nature of the binding site(s). Herein, the natural concentrations of metal ions are presented and the ability to remove metals by exposure of the melanin granules to EDTA is quantified. The results reveal that the binding constants of melanin at pH 5.8 for Mg(II), Ca(II), Sr(II) and Cu(II) are, respectively, 5, 4, 14 and 34 times greater than the corresponding binding constants of these ions with EDTA. These observations imply the existence of channels within the melanin granules that can serve to transport metal ions."
"Ion-Exchange and Adsorption of Fe(III) by Sepia Melanin" HERE
Here then is more evidence to this theory - that individuals, redheaded or not, who have low or damaged melanin, are at risk to a host of illnesses and diseases that often are called "genetic" rather than "environmentally induced". Autism is quite possibly one to be added to that list. Here is another pertinent researcher seeing a connection to melanin and two different but quite probably related conditions: "Xiang Gao, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, has long been investigating how melanin, which creates pigmentation, relates to Parkinson’s disease. He speculates that the two diseases (melanoma and Parkinson's) share common genetic components. In a previous study, Dr.Gao found that having light hair (a known risk factor for melanoma) puts people at twice the risk for Parkinson’s. Dark-skinned races have the lowest incidence of Parkinson’s, while Caucasians are at the highest risk." "Melanoma and Parkinson’s — New Evidence Makes a Surprising Connection" HERE
He explains that there is a small structure in the mid area of the brain called the substantia nigra — it contains most of the brain’s dopamine and its main function concerns body motion. Hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease include loss of dopamine and highly impaired motor function. In people who do not have Parkinson’s disease, the substantia nigra is dark because it contains a high level of melanin, whereas in people with Parkinson’s, the area fades to gray or white."...... "People with light skin and red hair likely produce less melanin — and we now know they are at higher risk for Parkinson’s and melanoma."nter a recent post on Age of Autism that made me wonder more about this melanin connection: " In The Best Kind of Different, Shonda Schilling, the wife of Major League Baseball All Star, former Boston Red Sox, and World Series championship pitcher Curt Schilling, shares the story of their son’s Asperger’s Syndrome, how it changed their lives, and what other parents can learn about this increasingly common diagnosis.Shonda is a survivor of melanoma, an experience that led her to create the Shade Foundation of America." Their son is a redhead. HERE
Here also was evidence that Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), like Parkinson's, had a connection to melanin/melanoma.
"Tourette syndrome occurs worldwide and the clinical features are similar irrespective of the country of origin, with genetic causes suspected, but to date not proven. A link between red hair colour and Tourette syndrome has been hypothesised as a result of an observation that red hair is over represented in this condition. A causal association between red hair and melanocortin-1 receptor has been shown, and is the only gene that is known to explain physiological variation in human pigmentation. Melanocortins are believed to be involved in many disease states including pigmentary disorders, adrenal disorders, obesity, anorexia, prolonged and neuropathic pain, and inflammatory response"......"In this study 22, 13% (95% CI 8.9-19.4) of the Tourette syndrome population had red hair. Data from Australian studies suggests, the normal population with red hair is 2–6%. The proportions of red haired individuals in this study were significantly higher than five of the eight population control groups"....."Many Tourette syndrome patients had multiple red haired relatives, since 90 patients yielded a total of 181 relatives with red hair."
So Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Melanoma, Tourette's, and Autism all may share a common thread - insufficient or dysfunctional melanin - but is there more?
So onward I went, looking to see what other idiopathic or genetically implied neurological and psychiatric diagnoses might also have a melanin connection. Since I had a family member, in-law with red hair, who also had a schizophrenia diagnosis dating back to the 1960's,, I thought that too was possibly related. I wasn't disappointed in my search:
Then this: "Epidemiological research on the occurrence of schizophrenia is reviewed, suggesting that the findings are helping researchers to pinpoint the causes of the disease.
That is interesting as inhabitants of Ireland and Sweden both share a similar appearance - fair skin, blue eyes, with red or blonde hair.
- "Melanin gives color to the skin, hair, and iris of the eyes. Levels of melanin depend on race and amount of sunlight exposure. Sun exposure increases melanin production." (So race, migration, location and weather would effect this)
- "Somalis living in Sweden have dubbed autism, "The Swedish disease," as it has become an increasingly common occurrence among Somali children that have moved to Sweden. One factor could be just sunlight and the effect of sunlight. At our northern latitudes we are only exposed to sufficient sunlight to build up our vitamin D for a few short summer months which explains that around half of the Swedish population suffers from a vitamin D deficiency." HERE
And from a recent study on Vitamin D and autism - "In the first paper, Dr. Mats Humble and his colleagues – at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm – measured vitamin D levels on 117 adult psychiatric outpatients. They found that the 10 adult patients with autism had the lowest 25(OH)D levels of any of the other groups, including the patients with schizophrenia and depression, an average of about 12 ng/ml, a level known to cause rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults."
"It causes gradual loss of central vision by damaging the retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells that lie underneath the macula, the small region of the retina responsible for fine detail at the center of the field of vision. Without RPE cells, the photoreceptors, which are the light detectors, also die. Patients lose the ability to see detail and soon they can't read.Chemist James Norris, Ph.D., and retina surgeon Kourous Rezai, M.D., combined resources to show that melanin, a pigment found throughout the human body, acts like a neutralizing sponge inside cells in the retina to soak up and destroy reactive oxygen species. Reactive oxygen species, or free radicals, energized by light, are thought to play a major role in macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 60.
"We now have the first persuasive evidence that melanin plays an important protective role within the eye," said Norris, professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics at the University of Chicago and one of the senior authors of both papers. "Although melanin contains its own intrinsic free radical, we found that it absorbs a far more damaging form of free radical, converting its destructive energy into harmless heat before it can hurt the retina.",,,,. "the team was able to capture convincing and dramatic evidence that melanin protects the retinal cells, they show that increased melanin aggregation and radical migration within melanin aggregates can protect RPE cells from free-radical damage and help prevent cell death, they demonstrate how melanin actually scavenges the harmful free radicals produced by high-energy blue or ultraviolet light as it flows into the eye, soaking them up and neutralizing their effects"......"The disorder is far more prevalent among whites than among black persons."
"RPE meets EPR - Role of melanin in preventing macular degeneration"
So again, we see a disease where melanin plays a key part as it soaks up free radicals. Autism also has free radicals that are harmful. Stay tuned for Part 2, where the bridge from the highway is built to the interstate, as we journey on this autism-melanin hypothesis.