Autism is a severe developmental disorder that is usually first diagnosed in early childhood. Most autistic children are perfectly normal in appearance, but have issues in areas of communication, social interactions and repetitive behaviors. It’s currently unexplained, but the prevalence of autism in males is 4:1 compared to females. There are milder versions of autism, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, that are referred to as being on the autism spectrum.
Some common symptoms of autism include decreased social interaction, an aversion to physical contact, repetitive behaviors such as rocking or hand-flapping, poor eye contact, insensitivity to pain, hyperactivity, and attention deficits, to name a few. There is also a very high incidence of gastrointestinal problems, auto-immune disease and mental retardation in those with autism. In fact, 90% of these children suffer from gastrointestinal challenges. Autistic individuals also have reduced glutathione levels, which contribute to higher oxidative stress. Increased oxidative stress may explain the high incidences of gastrointestinal and immune abnormalities seen in autism.
Many nutrients have been clinically shown to play a role in kids’ health:
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamin and minerals are essential components for numerous processes in the body related to growth and development.
Read more about Vitamins and Minerals here.
Beta-Carotene is a nutrient found in plants that the body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A may be useful for the treatment of autism because it is involved in cell growth and differentiation in the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract and brain; areas that are problematic for those with autism. Some studies have reported improvements among autistic individuals supplemented with vitamin A, such as language, eye contact, socialization and sleep patterns. Vitamin A deficiency is also common among those with autism. According to data from the Autism Research Institute, the B:W (Better:Worse with treatment) ratio reported by parents of autistic children for vitamin A is 22:1, meaning when supplemented with beta-carotene, 22 autistic individuals got better for every 1 that got worse.
Pyridoxal-5-phosphate is the active form of vitamin B6. The conversion of B6 to P5P in the liver can be problematic for some autistic children, so it is best to use the P5P form. This form has not been associated with toxicity. Vitamin B6 is the master vitamin for numerous metabolic pathways in the body. One specific function is its involvement in the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain and peripheral nerve cells, which are critical for the development of language, attention, alertness, etc. B6 is also required for the production of glutathione which is crucial for detoxification. Another proposed mechanism of action is the role of vitamin B6 as a cofactor for enzymes that degrade oxalates (organic compounds that appear increased in autistic individuals). Vitamin B6 is the most studied nutrient among autistic children and is often given in combination with magnesium.
Significant improvements in common autism symptoms, such as behavior, better eye contact, fewer tantrums, improved sleep patterns, better speech, etc., have been consistently reported using vitamin B6 and magnesium. In fact, the combination of B6 and magnesium has been described by many as a “breakthrough autism intervention.”
Methylcobalamin (B12) is a water-soluble vitamin needed for normal nerve cell activity, DNA replication, and production of the mood-affecting substance SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine). B12 is a necessary component for the conversion of sulfur-containing compounds to glutathione, a powerful antioxidant in the body. Because those with autism may have fewer beneficial bacteria in the gut to make vitamin B12 or they have a reduced synthesis of Intrinsic Factor, or more simply, autistic children don’t get enough B12 in their diet due to their food choices, a deficiency is common.
Folic Acid (Folinic acid) is essential for numerous processes in the body and is critical for development of the nervous system. Folinic acid is the metabolically active form of folic acid. Folic acid is a B vitamin essential for numerous processes in the body and is critical for development of the nervous system. Additionally, folic acid aids in the conversion of sulfur-containing compounds to glutathione, and this antioxidant is extremely important in autistic individuals.
Many studies have documented improvements in sleep, communication, social interaction and other behaviors with supplementation with folic acid in autistic individuals. According to data from the Autism Research Institute, the B:W (Better:Worse with treatment) ratio reported by parents of autistic children for folic acid is 11:1, meaning 11 autistic individuals supplementing with folic acid got better for every one that got worse.
Zinc is an essential mineral that is a component of more than 300 enzymes needed to repair wounds, synthesize proteins, aid in the development and maintenance of the brain, help cells reproduce, preserve vision, boost immunity, and protect against free radicals, among many other functions. When zinc levels are down, copper levels are often increased. According to data from the Autism Research Institute, 90% of autistic children have this abnormal zinc to copper ratio. Because zinc helps facilitate the excretion of excess copper, it is important to make sure a multivitamin has an adequate amount of zinc. The B:W (Better:Worse with treatment) ratio reported by parents of autistic children for zinc is 17:1.
Probiotics play a critical role in achieving optimal digestive health and help children maintain a bacterial balance within their digestive tracts. The digestive system naturally houses trillions of “good” bacteria that directly help the body digest, modify and convert the foods we eat, but disruptions to these populations of probiotics (good bacteria) are common. Probiotics must be kept at normal levels in order to overwhelm the other bacteria, which may begin to run rampant in the event the good bacteria levels decrease. There are numerous strains of probiotics, all of which work to maintain optimal bacterial balance, promote bowel regularity and stomach comfort, improve gastrointestinal health and support the digestive system. Some important strains are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus salivarus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium breve and Bifidobacterium infantis.
Digestive enzymes are a key component in the digestive system and collectively support the breakdown of complex macromolecules into energy sources and promote the release of the nutrient content from the foods we eat. Ingredients such as DigeZyme® (which is a multi-enzyme complex composed mainly of amylases, proteases and lipases), sucrase and maltase supplement the gastrointestinal tract with enzymes to adequately support the body’s ability to digest food. In addition to the physical discomfort caused by poor digestion, undigested (and consequently unabsorbed) food in the gastrointestinal tract serves as fuel to intestinal microbes, causing them to overpopulate and ferment. These fermenting microbes lower the pH of the colon and increase bacterial toxins in the gut. Supplementation with digestive enzymes provides the body with the additional support it needs for proper digestion. In addition to abdominal discomfort, there is also a connection between the function of the digestive system and the brain. Research suggests that promoting normal digestion may in turn support physical health.
Pycnogenol® is natural plant extract from the bark of the maritime pine tree which grows exclusively along the coast of southwest France. This pine bark extract is an all natural combination of proanthocyanidins, bioflavonoids, and organic acids. It is one of the most potent antioxidants backed by clinical research. As one of the most potent natural scavenger of free radicals, Pycnogenol combats many aggressive free radicals before they cause oxidative stress to vital organs. Trebaticka et al treated 61 children with ADHD with Pycnogenol for 1 month. They saw a significant reduction in hyperactivity, as well as improved attention, coordination and concentration. The placebo group had no positive effects, and one month after termination of Pycnogenol administration a relapse of symptoms was noted.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that has a number of biological functions. It is essential for tissue repair, wound and bone healing, immune function among other things. Its role as a cofactor for dopamine production may help to explain the improvement in symptoms of those with autism when supplemented with vitamin C. One study even showed an improvement in sensory motor scores and sleep patterns. Also, several studies have shown children with autism have significant oxidative stress, so supplementing with a proven antioxidant, like vitamin C, is helpful in combating free radicals. Vitamin C also elevates glutathione levels, another important antioxidant in the body. According to data from the Autism Research Institute, the B:W (Better:Worse with treatment) ratio reported by parents of autistic children for vitamin C is 16:1.