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Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by problems with interpersonal communication, repetitive behavior and social interaction. Signs and symptoms of autism generally make their appearance during the years of early childhood.
A young child may become withdrawn or unresponsive to social situations and one-on-one contacts. Autism may be accompanied by sensory disturbances, seizures and mental retardation.
Higher than normal levels of serotonin may contribute to the development of autism spectrum disorders. According to The National Autistic Society in the U.K., between 30 percent and 50 percent of children with autism have higher than normal blood serotonin levels.
It appears that children with autism produce an overabundance of serotonin and their brains aren't able to utilize it effectively.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that contributes to the healthy development of the central nervous system. At healthy levels, it is best known for its enhancement of well-being and improvement of mood.
Serotonin has significant effects on sensory perception, in the functions of sensation, sight, sound, smell and taste.
Serotonin also affects regulation of body temperature and energy levels. It influences aggression, sleep and social behavior.
The June 6, 2006 issue of Current Biology reported that research from the University of Pennsylvania indicated that serotonin also affects quality of sleep.
Serotonin is manufactured by the body from an amino acid called tryptophan. Foods high in tryptophan are bananas, pecans, pineapples, plums and tomatoes as well as breads, pastas, some cheeses, nuts and seeds. Avoiding these foods can help to reduce serotonin levels.
Research out of the UT Health Science Center San Antonio examined the role played by serotonin in autism spectrum disorders. Mice that displayed behaviors similar to those seen in autism were studied.
These behaviors improved after the administering of an anti-anxiety / antidepressant adjuvant medication called buspirone. The term "adjuvant" means that it enhances the efficacy of other medications.