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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by social and communication impairments as well as by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. Genomic studies have not revealed dominant genetic errors common to all forms of ASD. So ASD is assumed to be a complex disorder due to mutations in hundreds of common variants. Other theories argue that spontaneous DNA mutations and/or environmental factors contribute to as much as 50% of ASD. In reviewing potential genetic linkages between autism and alcoholism, it became apparent that all theories of ASD are consistent with aldehyde toxicity, in which endogenous and exogenous aldehydes accumulate as a consequence of mutations in key enzymes. Aldehyde toxicity is characterized by cell-localized, micronutrient deficiencies in sulfur-containing antioxidants, thiamine (B1), pyridoxine (B6), folate, Zn²⁺, possibly Mg²⁺, and retinoic acid, causing oxidative stress and a cascade of metabolic disturbances. Aldehydes also react with selective cytosolic and membrane proteins in the cell of origin; then some types migrate to damage neighboring cells. Reactive aldehydes also form adducts with DNA, selectively mutating bases and inducing strand breakage. This article reviews the relevant genomic, biochemical, and nutritional literature, which supports the central hypothesis that most ASD symptoms are consistent with symptoms of aldehyde toxicity. The hypothesis represents a paradigm shift in thinking and has profound implications for clinical detection, treatment, and even prevention of ASD. Insight is offered as to which neurologically afflicted children might successfully be treated with micronutrients and which children are unlikely to be helped. The aldehyde toxicity hypothesis likely applies to other neurological disorders.
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