Fatty acids are critical for pediatric neurodevelopment and are abnormal in autism, although prior studies have demonstrated conflicting results and methodological differences. To our knowledge, there are no published data on fatty acid in Canadian children with autism. The aim of this study was to investigate red blood cell and serum fatty acid status to identify whether abnormalities exist in Canadian children with autism, and to enhance future cross-study comparison.

Eleven Canadian children with autism (3 girls, 8 boys; age 3.05 ± 0.79 y) and 15 controls (9 girls, 6 boys; age 3.87 ± 1.06 y) met inclusion criteria, which included prior Diagnostic and Statistical Manual diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, no recent medication or supplements, no specialty diets, and no recent illness.

The children with autism demonstrated lower red blood cell docosahexaenoic acid (P < 0.0003), eicosapentaenoic acid (P < 0.03), arachidonic acid (P < 0.002), and ω-3/ω-6 ratios (P < 0.001). They also demonstrated lower serum docosahexaenoic acid (P < 0.02), arachidonic acid (P < 0.05), and linoleic acid (P < 0.02) levels.

Fatty acids in both serum and red blood cells were abnormal in this small group of Canadian children with autism than in controls, underlining a need for larger age- and sex-matched investigations in this community. A potential role for fatty acid abnormalities within the complex epigenetic etiology of autism is proposed in relation to emerging understanding of relationships between cobalamin metabolism, gut microbiota, and propionic acid production.