Nutritional Supplements for Patients with Autism: Why They Make Sense and Which Options to Consider

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As we mentioned in last week’s post, a new study from the CDC reveals that autism is more common among children in the United States than experts previously believed. Today, an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States is being diagnosed with the condition–up 15 percent from the last estimate–which means that more parents than ever are looking for all-natural treatment strategies for their children. Studies show that massage therapy can make a difference, and spinal manipulation may also help to reduce symptoms, as we have discussed in previous posts. Today’s focus is nutritional supplementation, which is perhaps the most commonly-used complementary therapy option for patients with autism. Read on to learn more about why a dietary supplement–even more than a specialty diet–makes sense for a child with autism, as well as some of the research-backed supplementation options that patients may want to try.

Why a Nutritional Supplement Makes Sense for a Child with Autism

When it comes to nutritional therapy for a child with autism, parents typically have two choices: a specialty diet that either restricts and/or emphasizes certain foods, or a nutritional supplement that addresses a particular dietary deficiency. Even when you’re getting nutritional counseling from your chiropractor, the first option simply isn’t feasible for many children with autism. That’s because food selectivity–also known as picky eating–is significantly more common among children with autism than their peers. Scientists believe that this is a result of the fact that autism, as a developmental disorder, interferes with normal sensory processing. Because children with autism have problems processing food-related information–including taste, texture, smell, and even timing–they are more likely to have strict dietary preferences and routines. Therefore, disrupting a child’s eating pattern with a specialty diet can be challenging–if not impossible–for parents.

If you have a child with autism who is a picky eater, nutritional supplements offer an alternative to specialty diets that may be less stressful for your child. After all, as a sensory experience, taking a pill or drinking a shake from a powdered functional food is typically much less overwhelming and stressful than the introduction of an unfamiliar food, especially for a picky eater. Nutritional supplementation can offer some of the same therapeutic benefits as a specialty diet, but in a way that won’t lead to food refusals and temper tantrums at every meal.

Choosing a Nutritional Supplement for Your Child

In recent years, countless nutritional supplements have been floated as potential therapies for children with autism. A professional nutritional counselor like a chiropractor can help you narrow down the options to find the one that is best for your child, but here are a few of the supplementation options that have been supported by preliminary scientific studies:

 

  • Probiotic supplements. Gastrointestinal problems are common among children with autism, and scientists hypothesize that this may be because of differences in the gut microbiome of patients–that is, they suspect that there may be problems with the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria the gut of a patient with autism–and there are rigorous studies to back up this claim. Therefore, many patients and healthcare providers are trying probiotic supplements, which have been shown to improve both gastrointestinal and behavioral symptoms in patients with autism.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. The biochemical underpinnings of autism are still poorly understood by scientists, but as the research has advanced, findings have indicated that some of the underlying physiological processes may include inflammation and oxidative damage. Therefore, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory supplements–like omega-3 fatty acids–may help patients with the condition. Indeed, there are multiple published case reports suggesting that these supplements can make a difference for children with the condition.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency during early childhood have been identified as an environmental risk factor for autism, and low levels may also exacerbate symptoms in children who have already been diagnosed with the condition. Conversely, a vitamin D supplement may help reverse symptoms. In two recent open-label clinical trials, a vitamin D supplement led to improvements in the core symptoms of autism for about 75 percent of the patients who participated. Therefore, for parents, this supplement may be well-worth a try.
  • Multivitamins and functional foods. In general, the rate of vitamin and mineral deficiency is higher among children with autism than their peers. Depending on the patient, this could be due to a wide range of causes–from problems processing food to strict food routines. If your child’s picky eating is getting in the way of establishing a healthy diet, it may make sense to try a multivitamin or functional food supplement to help make up for potential nutrient deficiencies.

 

 

Atlanta Chiropractic and Wellness is here to support you and your family, no matter what your unique health needs are. To learn more about our wide-ranging offerings–including chiropractic care, massage therapy, and nutritional support–contact us today!

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