While there are no drugs, vitamins or special diets that can correct the underlying neurological problems that seem to cause autism, parents and professionals have found that some drugs used for other disorders are sometimes effective in treating some aspects of behaviors associated with autism.
Changes to diet and the addition of certain vitamins or minerals may also help with behavioral issues. Over the past 10 years, there have been claims that adding essential vitamins such as B6 and B12 and removing gluten and casein from a child's diet, may improve digestion, allergies and sociability. Not all researchers and experts agree about whether these therapies are effective or scientifically valid.
The gluten-free/casein-free diet (known as GF/CF) is based on the idea that children with autism are more likely to have allergies to gluten (the protein in wheat, oats, barley, and rye) and casein (the protein in milk). By removing these proteins from a child's diet, brain function is no longer impaired by the proteins. Most children with these allergies are drawn to foods with gluten and casein in them, making a change challenging for some families. If a child is allergic to these proteins, it can make a big difference to change the child's diet. Some families report dramatic changes in their child after a few months on the GF/CF diet.
Children can eat a wide variety of meat, chicken, eggs, fruits, vegetables – anything that does not contain wheat gluten or milk protein (both proteins are very similar in molecular structure, and it is estimated that as high as 80% of children with autism who follow the GF/CF diet can benefit). However, some children may have additional food intolerances/sensitivities as well (including soy, corn, rice, potatoes, peanuts, beans, etc.), and parents may request other foods be eliminated.
Autism Network for Dietary Intervention
Autism Research Institute
DAN! doctors and g/f, c/f diets, supplement and vitamin regimens
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Over the past 10 years or more, claims have been made that vitamin and mineral supplements may improve the symptoms of autism, in a natural way. While not all researchers agree about whether these therapies are scientifically proven, many parent, and an increasing number of physicians, report improvement in people with autism when using individual or combined nutritional supplements.
Malabsorption problems and nutritional deficiencies have been addressed in several, as-of-yet, unreplicated studies. A few studies conducted in 2000 suggest that intestinal disorders and chronic gastrointestinal inflammation may reduce the absorption of essential nutrients and cause disruptions in immune and general metabolic functions that are dependent upon these essential vitamins. Other studies have shown that some children with autism may have low levels of vitamins A, B1, B3, B5, as well as biotin, selenium, zinc, and magnesium, while others may have an elevated serum copper to plasma zinc ratio, suggesting that people with autism should avoid copper and take extra zinc to boost their immune system. Other studies have indicated a need for more calcium.
Perhaps the most common vitamin supplement used in autism is vitamin B, which plays an important role in creating enzymes needed by the brain. In 18 studies on the use of vitamin B and magnesium (which is needed to make vitamin B effective), almost half of the individuals with autism showed improvement. The benefits include decreased behavioral problems, improved eye contact, better attention, and improvements in learning. Other research studies have shown that other supplements may help symptoms as well. Cod liver oil supplements (rich in vitamins A and D) have resulted in improved eye contact and behavior of children with autism. Vitamin C helps in brain function and deficiency symptoms like depression and confusion. Increasing vitamin C has been shown in a clinical trial to improve symptom severity in children with autism. And in a small pilot study in Arizona, using a multivitamin/mineral complex on 16 children with autism, improvements were observed in sleep, gastrointestinal problems, language, eye contact, and behavior.
- Autism Society of America: www.autism-society.org