Dietary Supplements for Autism

Dietary Supplements for Autism

October 2, 2019 66 By Ewald Bahringer


“Dietary Supplements for Autism” Dietary supplements are commonly
given to children with autism. Do they do any good? One of the most common is the
omega-3 fats in the form of fish oil, based on studies like this
that showed a marked reduction in omega-3 blood levels
among autistic children. But maybe that’s reverse causation.
Instead of the low omega-3s leading to autism, maybe the
autism led to low omega-3s. Maybe autistic children are just
pickier eaters and not eating as much fish or flax seeds. You don’t know
until you put it to the test. Six months of 200 mg a day of DHA, one
of the long chain omega-3s, and no effect. So here all these kids are taking it,
despite the lack of evidence that it actually does any good. Maybe they just didn’t give enough? OK, how about a randomized,
placebo-controlled trial of 1,500 mg of
long-chain omega-3s? And a high dose
didn’t work either. Put all the studies together
and omega-3 supplementation simply does not appear
to affect autism. Here is a preliminary trial that was
published of vitamin C supplements for autism that suggested
benefit in at least some kids, but should not be interpreted
as a blanket recommendation for vitamin C supplementation,
especially at the whopping dose they used, which could increase
the risk of kidney stones. Bottom line—read a 2017 review in the
journal of the Academy of Pediatrics— there’s little evidence to support the use
of nutritional supplements for children with autism, though they didn’t
review the vitamin D data. The vitamin D story started out,
like the omega-3 story: clear evidence that vitamin D
blood levels were significantly lower in children with autism compared to
other kids, and lower D levels correlated with greater autism severity, but
vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin. Rather than vitamin D
playing some role in autism, isn’t it more likely that autistic kids
just aren’t out sunbathing as much? There were some promising
case reports though. For example, this two-year-old
with autism, deficient in D, whose autism seemed to improve
after vitamin D supplementation. But you don’t know if it’s a fluke
until you put it to the test. A study on the efficacy of vitamin D
supplementation in 83 autistic children, and 80% got better, in terms of their
behavior, eye contact, attention span, concluding vitamin D is inexpensive,
readily available, safe, and may have beneficial effects. But this was an open label trial,
meaning no placebo control group. So we don’t know how much of the
improvement was just the placebo effect. Now sometimes open label
experiments are unavoidable, like if you’re studying the effects
of physical therapy or something, it’s hard to come up with
like a placebo massage, but you can stick
vitamin D in a pill. Why not then do a proper randomized,
double-blind, placebo-controlled trial? The typical excuse you get
is that it wouldn’t be ethical. I mean, if you have a kid
who was vitamin D deficient, how could you just stand by
and give them a sugar pill? Yeah, but if vitamin D actually works, how
many kids are you condemning to continue to suffer unnecessarily by publishing
a less-than-ideal study design? There are a bunch of various tenable
mechanisms by which vitamin D could potentially help in children with
autism: improvement in DNA repair, anti-inflammatory actions,
mitochondrial protection, etc. That’s why randomized, controlled
trials are urgently needed, but there haven’t been any
such studies until now. A randomized, controlled trial
of vitamin D supplementation in children with autism,
and it’s about time. They gave kids up to 5,000
international units a day, depending on their weight,
versus a placebo. The drugs we have for autism really just
help with some of the associated symptoms, like we can give kids
sleeping pills or something, but there’s no drug that really touches
the core symptoms of autism. So research groups around the world
are looking for something better, and this group appeared to find it. Vitamin D supplementation
revealed significant effects on the core manifestations
of autism spectrum disorder, significant improvements in not
only irritability and hyperactivity, but social withdrawal, and repetitive
behaviors, and inappropriate speech— the first double-blind,
randomized, controlled trial proving the efficacy of
vitamin D in autism patients.