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Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3, an essential fatty acid, is necessary for proper cardiovascular, immune, hormonal, visual, cognitive, and behavioral function.23-24 Unfortunately, omega-3 is not produced by our bodies and can only be absorbed through our diet. Fish oil and cod liver oil are a common source of omega-3. Research has demonstrated that individuals with autism have an omega-3 deficiency.25-26 The typical symptoms involved with omega-3 fatty acid deficiency “include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.”24 Omega-3 fatty acids are found in large amounts in nerve tissue in the brain and studies indicate it is essential for growth and functional development.27 The lack of omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in poor motor coordination, amongst other things.28 Further research must be conducted to determine if autism is contributing to the omega-3 deficiency, or if an omega-3 deficiency is contributing to the onset of autism.29 A physical indicator of an essential fatty acid deficiency is hard and thick ear wax, but parents should have their child undergo an essential fatty acid test to determine which exact fatty acid(s) is deficient.30
A 2006 internet survey found that 28.7% of kids on the autism spectrum used an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.27 However, at this time the research to support omega-3 as part of a child’s therapy is minimal. A 2009 systematic review of six articles that met all the inclusion criteria found that despite “the high prevalence of use of omega-3 fatty acids among children with ASD’s, there is very limited scientific evidence evaluating the safety and efficacy of the supplement in this population.”27 Furthermore, the review only found one randomized control trial, which is the preferred design for a clinical trial.27
While there certainly is some evidence that individuals on the autism spectrum suffer from an omega-3 immune deficiency,25-26 there is currently a lack of evidence-based research to support the use of omega-3 supplements for individuals on the autism spectrum.
*Parents should consult their family physician before implementing any dietary intervention for their child.