Autism and Nutritional Supplements


Autism and Nutritional Supplements

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tend to be picky eaters or they may have an aversion to certain foods such as vegetables. Therefore, they may not be getting sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals. Today, many children with ASD take nutritional supplements and follow specific diets such as a gluten-free and casein-free (GFCF) diet. 

Autism and supplements

A study just published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that even with supplementation, children with ASD were still deficient in several nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D. On the other hand, some were consuming excessive amounts of vitamin A and other nutrients.

Three hundred and sixty-eight children, ages 2 – 11 years old, were recruited from five Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (AS ATN) locations. A three-day diet diary was completed for each child. Photos of the nutrition supplement labels were taken to accurately document the nutrients obtained from these supplements.more

As a result, researchers found that children with ASD consumed similar amounts of micronutrients as children without ASD. They had many of the same deficiencies commonly seen in the pediatric population, including vitamin D, vitamin E, calcium, potassium, and choline. Even though children with ASD are given supplements more often than the general pediatric population, 40-55% were lacking in calcium and 30-40% were lacking in vitamin D.

Children with ASD may obtain most of their required nutrients from their diet, however, it is essential to determine the specific nutrient need of each child. The level of nutrient intake that maintains the best possible health is highly variable from person to person. Lifestyle choices and environmental exposures filtered through genetic predisposition are fundamental factors in ASD, and a successful treatment approach must include investigation into these factors. It is important to assess the nutrient status of the child. This can be the antioxidant status, vitamins, essential fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, etc. Also, it is critical to assess gut health. This includes “leaky gut” and dysbiosis, as many of these children have dysbiosis and opportunistic infections.

Children with ASD have significantly different concentrations of certain bacteria in their stool compared to children without ASD. Increasing evidence suggests that children with ASD have altered gut bacteria. It is suspected that gut microbes can alter the levels of neurotransmitter-related metabolites affecting the gut-to-brain communication and alter brain function. 

Stress may also play a role in the need for increased nutrient demands. Researchers at the Institute for Autism Research have found that stress levels play a critical part in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Lower-functioning children with ASD (LFASD) had significantly higher levels of salivary cortisol than both high-functioning children with ASD (HFASD) and those children without ASD. 

Optimal nutrition is incredibly important and can be difficult to accomplish for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. It can be extremely challenging for some parents to get their children to eat a nutrient dense diet. Children are growing, the brain is developing, and there tends to be some nutritional gaps due to lack of variety in their diet, soil deficiencies, or eating processed, convenience foods. Children may be influenced by advertising or packaging and sometimes choose which foods they will eat. A well balanced diet consisting of whole foods should be the number one priority in providing a solid foundation for their health, but supplements can definitely fill in some of the gaps. We have to be realistic….our diets cannot always meet all of our needs, especially for growing children, which means supplements are necessary from time to time.

By Michael Jurgelewicz DC, DACBN, DCBCN