Autism, which affects one in every 100 people, inhibits the ability to communicate, recognise emotions and socialise, and can take a mild or severe form.

London - Children who are low in zinc may be at higher risk of autism.

A study found that large numbers of children with autism and related conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome were deficient in the mineral, which is found in meat, bread and dairy products.

The researchers said their finding provided hope for the treatment and prevention of autism.

But British experts say it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions from the study - and people should not rush out to stock up on zinc supplements.

Autism and related conditions affect more than one in 100 British children - ten times more than just 30 years ago - but the condition is still little understood.

In the latest study, researchers in Tokyo measured levels of zinc in the hair of almost 2,000 children with autism and related conditions.

This showed a “considerable association” with zinc deficiency, especially in in the youngest children, according to the journal Scientific Reports.

But brain development expert Uta Frith, of University College London, said people should not start medicating themselves - or their children - with zinc.

The professor told the Daily Mail: “It is just as bad to have too much zinc as too little.” - Daily Mail