Autism is a developmental disability that typically involves delays and impairment in social skills, language, and behavior. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it affects people differently. Some children may have speech, whereas others may have little or no speech. Less severe cases might fit the DSM-IV criteria for Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or Asperger’s Syndrome (these children typically have normal speech, but they have many “autistic” social and behavioral problems). Autism literally means “aloneness,” or living in one’s own world.
Nutritionally, autistic individuals can have a poor diet, but this is usually due to the parents and not the child’s own decision about food. I applaud many parents who have researched the nutritional needs of their autistic child and how a healthy diet can improve all aspects of the child’s condition. Other parents who have received the diagnosis that their child is autistic, the doctors don’t really give nutritional advice on how a poor diet versus a healthy one can have dramatic effects upon the child’s learning and social skills as well as helping them have healthy digestion, muscle tone and improved sleep.
The Autism Research Institute supports an integrative medical approach to treating individuals on the autism spectrum. These approaches include:
- Nutritional support, including certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids
- Special diets totally free of gluten (from wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats), free of dairy (milk, ice-cream, yogurt, etc.), and free of soy.
- Testing for hidden food allergies, and avoidance of allergenic foods
- Treatment of intestinal bacterial/yeast overgrowth
We will focus on the nutritional support nutrients in this article as the nutritional needs for autistic individuals can fill volumes of books.
- Very helpful to improve verbal communication, social interaction and emotional control in autistic individuals.
- DMG has shown a 42% improvement in those with autism compared to less than 30% of those using Ritalin or Benedryl.
- Provides useful building blocks for the biosynthesis of vitamins, hormones, neurotransmitters, antibodies, nucleic acids, and other metabolically active molecules
- Supports all aspects of immune response by acting as an anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal agent
- Promotes cardiovascular functions by supporting normal triglyceride and cholesterol levels, reducing angina, improving circulation, and decreasing elevated homocysteine levels
- Improves oxygenation, thus reducing fatigue and increasing energy for improved physical and mental performance
- Supports neurological function and mental clarity by acting as a precursor to the amino acids that are building blocks for neurotransmitters
- Acts as an antioxidant against free radicals
- Supports detoxification and enhances liver function, particularly Phase II detoxification (the phase that excretes converted toxic metabolites)
One reason DMG affects so many areas in the body are because it contributes to methylation, a biochemical process essential to life and necessary for good health. Through trans-methylation (the transfer of a methyl group from one molecule to another), DMG supplies methyl groups for many of the modifying, building, detoxifying, recycling, activating, and protecting reactions that change the structure and function of many components in the body. As a source of methyl groups, DMG causes certain critical chemical reactions to proceed more efficiently.
The dose of DMG can range from 125mg to 1,000mg per day. It is wise to work with a health professional well versed in DMG and autism.
This nutrient plays an important role in converting food into energy and helping the body metabolize fats and proteins. The B vitamins are also important for healthy hair, skin, liver, and eyes.
- Better eye contact
- Less self-stimulatory behavior
- More interest in the world around them
- Fewer tantrums
- More speech
Dosage of vitamin B6 varies from 100-600mg and should be complimented with the other B vitamins. Many use a B-complex formula with extra B6.
- Builds and strengthens our bones
- Relaxes our muscles
- Transmits nerve signals
- Contributes to a healthy immune response
- Produces enzymes responsible for energy
- Regulates blood pressure and essential vitamins and minerals in our body.
Absorption of nutrients depends largely on intestinal health, which seems to be a big problem with the majority of autism cases.
If your child experiences:
- Impaired communication
- Social difficulties
- Can’t keep still or constant body rocking
- Grinding teeth
- Noise sensitivity
- Poor attention span
- Poor concentration
- Irritability or aggressiveness, ready to explode
- Easily stressed
The dose of magnesium ranges from 800-2,000mg per day. It is wise to take the magnesium and vitamin B6 simultaneously to improve absorption and function of both nutrients.
While no patient has been cured with the vitamin B6 and magnesium treatment, there have been many instances where remarkable improvement has been achieved. In one such case an 18-year-old autistic patient was about to be evicted from the third mental hospital in his city. Even massive amounts of drugs had no effect on him, and he was considered too violent and assaultative to be kept in the hospital. The psychiatrist tried the B6/magnesium approach as a last resort. The young man calmed down very quickly. The psychiatrist reported at a meeting that she had recently visited the family and had found the young man to now be a pleasant and easy-going young autistic person who sang and played his guitar for her.
Other Nutrients to Consider
Essential Fatty Acids
Our brains are 60-70% fat and much of that fat needs essential fatty acids to be healthy. EPA, DHA and GLA are the vital essential fatty acids the brain needs to maintain and improve its overall function. There have been numerous studies using essential fatty acids for autism, but the improvements expected have not been seen. This does not mean essential fatty acids are not needed, but just the opposite. They are needed daily to help the brain to function at a healthy level and to keep cortisol in balance as well as reduce brain inflammation. For more information on clinical studies involving essential fatty acids and autism please follow this link - http://www.omega-research.com/research11.php?catid=2&subcat=48
The gastrointestinal tract microflora is composed of more than 400 identified species and at least another 400 yet uncultured species. This highly complex community is integral to normal human development and health. The gastrointestinal microflora mostly consists of indigenous native species and healthful microorganisms that colonize the bowel only when they are consumed on a regular basis. A small percentage of the microflora has the potential to cause disease. All these microorganisms normally coexist in a balanced, complex community and promote normal gastrointestinal function, provide protection from infection, supply nutrients and vitamins, facilitate mineral absorption, modulate immune function, and metabolize cholesterol, bile salts, hormones and drugs. However, this delicate microecological balance can be disrupted by an array of factors including inadequate dietary intake of essential probiotics, nutritional deficiencies, chronic overgrowth of pathogenic microbes, stress, toxins, and the use of medications including antibiotics. Once the normal intestinal microflora is disrupted, a person becomes susceptible to a variety of infectious, allergic, autoimmune, and inflammatory diseases.
Much research is now being revealed that common cognitive/behavioral disorders are caused by an unhealthy gut flora and toxic overload. Mental and behavioral related issues are largely intestinal and gut related. If the gut health isn’t healthy, neither will one’s mental health including autistic individuals.
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have shown for the first time that poor gut health may actually contribute to the disorder. They reported in the journal Cell that an experimental probiotic therapy alleviated autism-like behaviors in mice and are already planning a clinical trial.
Arizona State University researchers analyzed the gut bacteria in fecal samples obtained from autistic and normally developing children. They found that autistic participants had many fewer types of bacteria, probably making the gut more susceptible to attack from disease-causing pathogens. Other studies have also found striking differences in the types and abundance of gut bacteria in autistic versus healthy patients.
In an early study, it was revealed that women who get the flu during pregnancy double their risk of their child getting autism. Researchers decided to give a mock virus to pregnant mice and actually induced autistic mice. The following results were shocking.
The mouse pups went on to develop so-called "leaky gut," in which molecules produced by the gut bacteria trickle into the bloodstream, possibly reaching the brain—a condition also seen in autistic children.
But how did these bacteria influence behavior? To find out, Hsiao analyzed the mice's blood. The blood of "autistic" mice contained a whopping 46 times more 4EPS, a molecule produced by gut bacteria, thought to have seeped from their intestines. What's more, injecting healthy mice with 4EPS made them more anxious. A similar molecule has been detected at elevated levels in autistic patients.
The researchers then laced the animals' food with B. fragilis, a priobiotic that's been shown to treat GI problems in mice—and the results were jaw-dropping.
Five weeks later, the leaky gut in "autistic" mice had sealed up, and the levels of 4EPS in their blood had plummeted. Their gut microbiomes had come to more closely resemble those of healthy mice—and so did their behavior. They were less anxious and more vocal, and stopped obsessively burying marbles in their cages.
One must not overlook the importance of using probiotics in autistic individuals. The use of probiotics is not necessarily used to improve social skills or improve speech, but for improving absorption of other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and amino acids. All of these nutrients are for overall health of the autistic individual as well as leading to improved social skills, learning capabilities and general well-being.
The diet must be corrected and gluten-free and casein-free diets are highly recommended for those with autism. We will cover these diets in relation to autism in a future article.