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Diet and Vitamins

Tammi Reynolds, BA & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Some families choose to treat autism spectrum disorder symptoms with a combination of diet and vitamin and mineral supplements. Two popular diet and vitamin interventions for autism spectrum disorder that are frequently recommended are: 1) the casein and gluten-Free diet, 2) vitamin supplements.

healthy foods It should be kept in mind that no one really knows what causes autism spectrum disorder. There is no solid, replicated scientific evidence available at this time definitively linking autism spectrum disorder to dietary problems.

Casein and Gluten-Free Diet. Casein and gluten are proteins found in dairy, and oat, wheat, rye and barley products, respectively. The theory behind the casein and gluten-free approach believes that people with autism spectrum disorder do not have the ability to digest these proteins. Instead, the proteins hang around in the body and activate brain chemical receptors in the same way as opiate drugs. Eliminating foods containing casein and gluten from the diet is believed to reduce or eliminate this possible cause of autism spectrum disorder.

The casein and gluten-free diet is very restrictive and extremely challenging to follow. No bread or dairy products of any kind are allowed, and that is just the beginning. These proteins are found in thousands of foods. Even a trace exposure is supposed to severely affect sensitive patients. Children under the age of five are put on the diet for three months and are monitored to see whether any improvements occur. Children older than five are put on the diet for six months. There is no solid clinical evidence that the casein and gluten-free diet significantly improves the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder and it can be hard to meet adequate nutrition needs when eliminating all foods that contain these proteins.

Vitamins Supplements. Another approach to treating the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder involves vitamin supplements. The most commonly used vitamin is the B complex which helps the brain create enzymes that aid in its functioning. Vitamin B-12 maintains the nervous system and some studies reported that the vitamin B supplements resulted in improved eye contact, attention and behavior for some people with autism spectrum disorder. Another group of vitamins that is being targeted in research is essential fatty acids (Omega-3). Research is still in the preliminary stages, but some studies have suggested that modern diets are often too high in foods with Omega-6 and too few with Omega-3. These studies found that Omega-3 was sometimes linked to aggression and impulsivity behaviors, as well as disorders such as ADHD and schizophrenia.