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Metabolism is the process your body uses to make energy from the food you eat. Food is made up of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Your digestive system breaks the food parts down into sugars and acids, your body’s fuel. Your body can use this fuel right away, or it can store the energy in your body. If you have a metabolic disorder, something goes wrong with this process.

One group of these disorders is amino acid metabolism disorders. They include phenylketonuria (PKU) and maple syrup urine disease. Amino acids are “building blocks” that join together to form proteins. If you have one of these disorders, your body may have trouble breaking down certain amino acids. Or there may be a problem getting the amino acids into your cells. These problems cause a buildup of harmful substances in your body. That can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening, health problems.

These disorders are usually inherited. A baby who is born with one may not have any symptoms right away. Because the disorders can be so serious, early diagnosis and treatment are critical. Newborn babies get screened for many of them, using blood tests.

Treatments may include special diets, medicines, and supplements. Some babies may also need additional treatments if there are complications.

Hartnup disease is a condition caused by the body’s inability to absorb certain protein building blocks (amino acids) from the diet. As a result, affected individuals are not able to use these amino acids to produce other substances, such as vitamins and proteins. Most people with Hartnup disease are able to get the vitamins and other substances they need with a well-balanced diet.People with Hartnup disease have high levels of various amino acids in their urine (aminoaciduria). For most affected individuals, this is the only sign of the condition. However, some people with Hartnup disease have episodes during which they exhibit other signs, which can include skin rashes; difficulty coordinating movements (cerebellar ataxia); and psychiatric symptoms, such as depression or psychosis. These episodes are typically temporary and are often triggered by illness, stress, nutrient-poor diet, or fever. These features tend to go away once the trigger is remedied, although the aminoaciduria remains. In affected individuals, signs and symptoms most commonly occur in childhood.

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