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Nutritional Deficiencies & Autism

Learn about the nutritional deficiencies common in children with autism from pediatrician and child development expert Asma J. Sadiq, M.D. in this Howcast video.


Children with autism spectrum disorders, tend to also be very particular with food and very selective. That puts them at a higher risk for nutrition deficiencies. That is a theory that seems to make sense but they have underlying deficiencies anyway. We haven't researched that difference, but there are definitely deficiencies that are seen in children with autism spectrum.

Known ones include Omega-3 fish oil, Omega- 3 with the building blocks DHA/EPA. The DHA is really a building block for the brain and is now added to formula and it’s present in breast milk, in fact taken from the growing fetus from the mother. So the mothers should be given Omega-3 in their vitamins to hopefully prevent this. Omega- 3 is crucial for as I mentioned brain development but also speech and language, eye maturation, fine motor coordination, and children with the spectrum seem to have lower levels of it. So supplementing Omega -3 and doing it with diet as well as supplements is important. Other deficiencies include magnesium. A lot of American children have low magnesium particularly teenagers. Magnesium is in your greens and kale and spinach. How many of us like the kale and spinach smoothies now? But children with the autism spectrum benefit from added magnesium. This is a study done by Dr. Rimland where he actually gave magnesium and B6 vitamin to children with ASD, autism spectrum disorders, and there was improvement in behavior.

Magnesium is also known to be very calming and in some ways works like lithium. Magnesium also helps the tone of the gastrointestinal tract, so it can be helpful for addressing the symptoms of constipation, because too much magnesium can end up causing diarrhea. So it can be used to its benefit, if some child is constipated and often these children have issues of constipation. Magnesium can help with sleep and help with bowel movement.

Other deficiencies that are known is zinc. Zinc is very important for neurotransmitter functioning. We know that we like to give zinc when people are getting colds. The zinc lozenges are getting very popular, but giving added amounts of zinc and keeping the balance between zinc and copper is important. There is interesting work through the Pfeiffer Clinic, regarding the ratio between zinc and copper.

It is one of the nutrients or micro nutrients that need to be looked at. There are many other B vitamins that also have been known to be beneficial. Doing blood levels of B vitamins are difficult because it is present in the serum and you have to get to a cellular level. There is some research with the use of B12 with high B12 injections and I mentioned B6 being used together with magnesium also having some positive benefit for children with the spectrum. I think that looking at overall macro nutrients and micro nutrients and trying to do it through food and doing it in a balanced way is important. If you have particular deficiencies, you can add one particular supplement in, but often things are best done in combination.

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