Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Camel milk for autism: one hump or two?

I am so sorry dear readers for the dreadful pun used in the title of this post. It comes from years of reading books about 'knock-knock' jokes and the ever versatile 'the boy stood on the burning deck' ditties. More so in recent times with the advent of one of my brood starting to use the old 'Dr Who' version of the knock-knock joke. Having said all that I'm sure some people might think I am joking when it comes to talking about camel milk as a potential intervention for autism (some autism).
Send in the camel corp @ Wikipedia 

But I assure you readers that I am quite serious...

The primary fodder for this post comes in the shape of the trial results reported by Bashir and Al-Ayadhi [1] and their assertion that "camel milk administered for 2 weeks significantly improved clinical measurements of autism severity". The results are based on a small sample of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition and who were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (a) boiled camel milk (CM), (b) raw camel milk and (c) normal cows milk (acting as a placebo). Alongside plotting responses to group assignment based on the CARS, the authors also reported on serum levels of Thymus and Activation-Regulated Chemokine (TARC) otherwise known as CCL17.

The results: well bearing in mind this was a small study looking at intervention over the course of only 2 weeks "significant improvements were observed in CARS score (p=0.04) in raw CM group only". That and levels of TARC also being reported to have dropped significantly in both the CM groups but not the placebo group.

I would echo the sentiments of the authors in their desire to see further more methodologically strong trials on whether CM might indeed have some potentially important effects for at least some people on the autism spectrum. One might argue that use of cows milk as a placebo may be problematic or indeed that the study may have benefited from a milk exclusion or non-mammalian milk source group as part of the trial. But it didn't.

This is also not the first time that the words 'camel milk and autism' have appeared together in a research sense as per the study by Al-Ayadhi & Elamin [2] (open-access here) looking at what happened to antioxidant biomarkers as a function of adopting camel milk including that very important compound, glutathione (see here). That and some research write-up of a case study of camel milk use in one child with autism [3] (open-access here). Don't underestimate the value of the N=1 when it comes to autism... 'if you've met one person with autism' and all that.

As for the hows and whys of camel milk potentially affecting the presentation of autism, well, outside of the possible immunological effects as per other research from some of the same authors [4] I'm inclined to suggest a few areas which might be important:

Science is science, and whether or not you believe that camel milk or any other alternative to regular cow milk might be able to exert an effect on at least some cases of autism, this is nevertheless a potentially interesting area of autism research. Complimentary perhaps to some of the other dietary intervention research that has been done (see here) but with the added bonus that, if found to be effective in larger scientific trials, exclusion of milk may not be as daunting a prospect as it is currently for many people with autism.

So the question remains, one hump or two?

And since we're on the topic of camels and the very soft connection with Egypt, I leave you with a song about walking [like an .....] by the Bangles.


[1] Bashir S. & Al-Ayadhi L. Effect of camel milk on Thymus and Activation-Regulated Chemokine (TARC) in autistic children: double blind study. Pediatr Res. 2013 Dec 27. doi: 10.1038/pr.2013.248.

[2] Al-Ayadhi LY & Elamin NE. Camel Milk as a Potential Therapy as an Antioxidant in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:602834.

[3] Adams CM. Patient report: autism spectrum disorder treated with camel milk. Glob Adv Health Med. 2013 Nov;2(6):78-80.

[4] Al-Ayadhi LY. & Mostafa GA. Elevated serum levels of macrophage-derived chemokine and thymus and activation-regulated chemokine in autistic children. J Neuroinflammation. 2013; 10: 72.

[5] Cardoso RR. et al. Consumption of camel's milk by patients intolerant to lactose. A preliminary study. Rev Alerg Mex. 2010 Jan-Feb;57(1):26-32.

[6] Shattock P. & Whiteley P. Biochemical aspects in autism spectrum disorders: updating the opioid-excess theory and presenting new opportunities for biomedical intervention. Expert Opin Ther Targets. 2002 Apr;6(2):175-83.

[7] Kamiński S. et al. Polymorphism of bovine beta-casein and its potential effect on human health. J Appl Genet. 2007;48(3):189-98.

[8] Sawaya WN. et al. Chemical Composition and Nutritional Quality of Camel Milk. J Food Sci. 1984; 49: 744-747.

[9] Yang Y. et al. Proteomic Analysis of Cow, Yak, Buffalo, Goat and Camel Milk Whey Proteins: Quantitative Differential Expression Patterns. J Proteome Res. 2013 Mar 25.

----------- Bashir S, & Al-Ayadhi L (2013). Effect of camel milk on Thymus and Activation-Regulated Chemokine (TARC) in autistic children: double blind study. Pediatric research PMID: 24375082