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Vitamin/ Mineral Supplements
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common with individuals on the autism spectrum, and it usually stems from restricted eating habits.12 For the purpose of this article, vitamins and minerals are used as an umbrella term referring to all the nutrients of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), which is the “quantities of nutrients in the diet that are required to maintain good health in people.”13 Explored in greater detail are the potential benefits of high doses of specific vitamins/minerals such as B6 Vitamins/Magnesium and Essential Fatty Acids. The general rationale behind introducing high doses of vitamins/minerals is that some individuals on the autism spectrum fail to produce certain vitamins/minerals naturally or their bodies aren’t properly utilizing the nutrients their bodies do produce.14 Vitamin and mineral supplements are given to children undertaking this dietary intervention. The hope is that nutritional supplements will enhance neurotransmitter function by increasing the availability of substrate and cofactors and/or make up for presumed biochemical deficits, such as B6/Magnesium deficiency, that may be an underlying cause of autism. Supplementation of vitamins and minerals and removal of junk foods are essential to repairing digestive problems that can occur in individuals on that autism spectrum.6
Research on the effect of a vitamin and mineral supplementation on individuals with autism has generally been good, but these studies tend to be riddled with methodological shortcomings. A 2005 pilot study showed promising results as “improvements in sleep and GI symptoms were statistically significant.”15 However, the limitations of this study include small sample size, as only 20 children participated, data was collected through parent assessments, no pretesting occurred for vitamin C measurements, limiting the validity of this study.12 A more recent study involved 141 children on the autism spectrum who were assessed before and after receiving a vitamin supplement or placebo for the three month treatment period. The results of the study suggest “that a vitamin/mineral supplement is a reasonable adjunct therapy to consider for most children and adults with autism.”16 This study’s flaws include the fact that the initial autism diagnosis of these children was only given in writing, no other validation was sought out, seasonal changes may have affected some results, the placebo given contained small amount of natural plant-based extracts that may have affected results, the study’s three month treatment period may have been too small a window to see the full treatment results, and a larger sample size is need “for appropriate statistical power for more subtle, possibly significant differences.”16 Autism Speaks is currently working with their Autism Treatment Network (ATN) to collect extensive dietary intake information to determine the nutritional status of children with ASD.
When new dietary interventions are implemented for individuals on the autism spectrum it is important “to ensure that the child’s restricted diet doesn't create nutritional deficiencies, and it is crucial that care is taken to assure proper nutrition.”17 To that end, parents can introduce various supplements into their child’s diet that will ensure their child receives the RDA of important nutrients.
*Parents should consult their physician before implementing any dietary intervention for their child.