With 1 in 68 children experiencing an autism-spectrum condition, many parents have turned to lifestyle and nutritional remedies to manage symptoms. A new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that parents who rely on supplements and special diets may be wasting their time. In some cases, these nutritional strategies may even be harmful.
Supplements and Special Diets: Not an Autism Panacea
Researchers looked at 368 children treated at five Autism Speaks centers. The children ranged in age from 2 to 11, and had been diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s, or another so-called “pervasive developmental disorder.” Each child’s caregiver maintained a three-day diary tracking food consumption, nutritional supplements, and drinks.
Researchers found that the children consumed nutrients similar to children without autism, and that they had similar nutritional deficiencies to other children. About 55% of children on the autism spectrum were deficient in calcium, with 40% deficient in vitamin D. Though children on gluten-free and casein-free diets—two approaches popular among parents of children with autism—got more vitamin E and magnesium, they were still calcium deficient.
Though children on the autism spectrum are often picky eaters, the study’s authors say these children still get most essential nutrients from their food, since many foods are fortified with minerals and vitamins. Importantly, though, many of the children in the study were getting too much of some nutrients, such as folic acid, vitamin A, and zinc. Getting too much of a vitamin can be just as dangerous as getting too little. Excessive vitamin A consumption, for example, can lead to headaches, dizziness, joint pain, nausea, skin irritation, coma, and death.