Skeptic Mom’s Top 10 Guide to the Best Supplements and Vitamins for Autism
A guest post by Tammy Russell, an autism mom and longtime fan of AngelSense.
Nope, I was never a crunchy, Whole Foods mom. I was just that straight-laced mom who’s always been one for following traditional protocol. Being a mom to a child with high-functioning ASD, I always had well-meaning friends offering me their two cents on what they heard can cure autism. I used to hide my chuckle at that one neighbor who swore by the gluten free/dairy free diet for her autistic son. I rolled my eyes whenever I’d see a facebook post with a dramatic claim like Mom Starts Broccoli Sprout Supplement and Nonverbal Child Starts Talking. I knew there was no cure for autism and no one silver-bullet vitamin that was going to turn my son’s autistic symptoms around.
But I knew something else as well. Call it just mom gut. I knew that not everything was working properly in my kid’s body. I could see the dark circles under his eyes, the GI problems, the signs of inflammation, the allergies. Given his rigid eating habits and GI problems, I wondered if he was deficient in basic nutrients which was setting off a chain of malfunctioning systems in his body. I also wondered if these deficiencies were somehow exacerbating his autistic symptoms (he was a constant yo-yo). I brought these concerns to our pediatrician quite a few times, but he downplayed any connection to nutrients or deficiencies and tried prescribing more meds instead. I felt helpless. With time, my frustration boiled.
That’s when I turned to a biomedical doctor.
I’m happy to summarize a bit of my research on vitamins and supplements here for you in this beginner’s guide if it means saving you the trouble and serving as a diving board from which you can embark on your own journey with your loved one.
How Can Supplements and Vitamins Help Autistic Symptoms?
In recent years, there is a growing body of evidence emerging, which suggests that nutrition, and diet factors may be a key consideration in helping kids with ASD. Many of these kids have nutrient deficiencies related to selective eating, poor absorption in the gut, or depletion of nutrients from chronic stress. Repleting nutrients with diet and supplements can often be a missing piece of the puzzle and help these kids feel their best and thrive.
I’ve rounded up the 10 best supplements for autism.
Top 10 Recommended Vitamins and Supplements for Autism
1. Vitamin D₃
One recent study revealed that children with autism appear to have a much higher vitamin D3 deficiency than neurotypical children. In addition, more studies have shown that children who take vitamin D3 supplementation documented an improvement in autistic symptoms such as eye contact, repetitive behaviors, communication, and social interactions. This makes sense given that every cell in the brain has vitamin D3 receptors. The receptors regulate gene expression. Therefore, vitamin D3 is involved in brain function and also protects brain tissue by stimulating production of neurotrophins, chemicals that combat toxicity.
2. Digestive Enzymes
Kids on the spectrum commonly have low levels of stomach acid and struggle with producing sufficient enzymes to break down carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Broad spectrum digestive enzymes can help break down aggravating proteins and aid digestion, making the nutrients in food more available for absorption. A by-product of better protein digestion is often noted as an improvement in mood and disposition in these children.
Once a child is able to better absorb nutrients from food (or supplements), the sky’s the limit on just what tremendous developmental changes you may be able to see in your child with time.
It’s common for children with ASD to have gut issues – most commonly constipation, though also diarrhea, stomach pains, and bloating. Many times, this can be caused by dysbiosis (imbalance of gut bacteria) and yeast overgrowth. In a systematic review, researchers found that autistic individuals have altered gut microbiota.
Probiotics can increase the presence of beneficial gut bacteria. Good bacteria found within the GI tract act as messengers, sending signals to various body parts, including the brain. An imbalance in these intestinal bacteria can affect mood, sleep, attention, and stress.
4. Methylated Vitamin B₁₂ (Cobalamin)
Children with autism have shown significant behavioral improvement while taking vitamin B12 supplements in the way of increased awareness and responsiveness, better focus, eye contact, socialization, and speech.
Vitamin B12 is known as being one of the best natural stress relievers. It’s essential for the proper function of the adrenal glands, which produce the primary stress hormone cortisol. It also promotes the growth of new cells, maintains healthy brain function, and helps the nervous system function properly.
For parents looking for vitamins that can help autistic symptoms, vitamin B12 is a pretty standard go-to choice. Note: B vitamins should be methylated for optimal absorption.
5. Methylated Vitamin B₆ with Magnesium (combined therapy)
Research shows that vitamin B6, also known as Pyridoxine, can have significant improvement on behavior, sleep, speech, learning and social interaction when given in correct dosages. It’s a cofactor in the body’s production of serotonin and GABA (a neurotransmitter connected to mood, sensory, anxiety, hyperactivity, depression and stress).
Vitamin B6 is broken down in the body by an enzyme (PLP), and some research suggests this enzyme is not as effective in children with autism. B6 supplementation can be a gamechanger for kids with ASD. Note: B vitamins should be methylated for optimal absorption.
Magnesium is also a vital nutrient, ensuring proper functioning of muscle cells and the brain. Magnesium can calm the nervous system, serve as a natural laxative (at the right doses), and help with sleep.
Vitamin B6 and magnesium are typically given together, as large doses of B6 can sometimes come with side effects, and the magnesium counteracts these side effects.
6. Sulforaphane (Broccoli Sprouts)
Sulforaphane is a naturally occurring compound that is found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, bok choy, and cabbage. It is also sold as a supplement, often called broccoli sprout extract (broccoli sprouts are found to have the most positive effect on development of kids with ASD).
One study found that 65% of participants taking sulforaphane improved significantly in social responsiveness. Another report from a control study indicates that 31% of participants taking sulforaphane showed improvements in social interaction, communication, and a reduction in aggressive behavior.
7. Methylated Multivitamin
For kids who are generally picky eaters, some parents look for a high quality multivitamin to cover all their bases. As is probably obvious, not all multivitamins are created equal.
It’s important to choose a multivitamin that has methylated, or active B vitamins, so that it can be metabolized and absorbed easily and effectively. The multivitamin should include most essential minerals like calcium, chromium, iodine, magnesium, potassium, selenium and zinc. Make sure it also has vitamins A, D, E, and K. *Optional- Try to find a product that has added ingredients that boost brain and antioxidant functions like choline, CoQ10, NAC, inositol, L-Carnitine, and curcumin (turmeric).
8. Vitamin C
Vitamin C plays an important role in the human body, as it supports the production of neurotransmitters and helps protect the body against free radicals. Vitamin C is also essential for maintaining a healthy immune system.
One study found that children with autism who took Vitamin C supplements saw a significant decrease in stereotypical behaviors such as pacing, rocking, and hand flapping. Other studies have shown that vitamin C helps in lowering stress levels and GI problems in children with autism.
9. Fish Oil/Omega 3
Fish oil is high in Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and are considered essential because they are needed throughout the human life cycle, cannot be produced in the human body, and therefore must be provided through diet or supplements. EFAs help with nerve and brain development, oxygenation, cellular communication, immune response, and metabolism.
In children with ASD, Omega-3 EFAs such as DHA and EPA are particularly important for the brain, the immune system, and to help fight inflammation. Many studies show that EFA supplementation can also help with mood, attention, and cognitive function.
Around half of children with ASD struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep. There are a variety of factors that may contribute to this including anxiety, an irregular circadian rhythm, or side effects of medication.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the body responsible for regulating our sleep/wake cycles. Several studies have revealed a link between low melatonin levels and the severity of autistic symptoms in children.
Research examining the effectiveness of melatonin supplements for ASD has been promising, with several well-control studies indicating an improvement in sleep duration and more positive daytime behaviors.
Here are the honorable mentions (AKA potentially MAJOR game changers) for children with autism you can research on your own:
- GAPS diet
- CBD oil
- Folate (also known as B9, folinic acid or methylfolate NOT folic acid)
- Cod Liver Oil (Vitamins A and D)
From Zero to Hero Overnight?
No. Change comes slowly, with patience and consistency. Without getting into the nitty gritties of each bump in the road, every therapy and supplement I gave, I will tell you this: Here we are three years later. My son is thriving like never before. The abnormalities in his systems have all cleared and I see clear positive changes.
Did I go from skeptic to believer overnight? No. But I gave it all I had and I saw dramatic results. The proof is in the pudding.
One thing’s for certain: we’re all in this together. Our journeys may not look the same, but our burning desire to help our kids and protect our kids is the same.
(Disclaimer: The content of this blog is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Please consult with a naturopath or biomedical doctor/practitioner before starting a new regime. This journey is a process of trial and error which requires tenacity, patience, and money.)