Nutrition and Autism

Nutrition and Autism
  • Dr. Taylor Wallace
  • April 3, 2014

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are commonly experienced by individuals with autism.  This is mainly because autism is also commonly associated with gastrointestinal problems and sensory issues with food textures and smells.  Food selectivity (by type, texture and or presentation) is the feeding problem most commonly associated with autism.  Autistic individuals generally have strong preferences for carbohydrates and snack foods while rejecting fruits and vegetables.  In fact, it has been estimated that 46-89% of children with autism have atypical feeding habits.

Gastrointestinal problems in autistic individuals are another common problem which may lead to impaired digestion of certain foods and thus malabsorption of certain nutrients.  The most common GI symptoms include chronic diarrhea, abdominal distention, discomfort and bloating, gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD), excessive gas, constipation, fecal impaction, and food regurgitation.  According to the National Autism Network, nearly one in five children with autism are on a special diet. There is no specific recommended diet for autistic individuals, however removing certain proteins may relieve symptoms. The gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet has the most research and is one of the most common dietary interventions.  It excludes gluten, the protein in wheat, and casein, the protein in milk. In theory, autistic individuals improve on the diet because incomplete breakdown of these proteins can inflame the gut.  Some but not all studies have shown improvement, whereas parents more frequently report success when these two proteins are removed from the diet.

The body needs adequate levels of all essential nutrients to grow and maintain health.  For these reasons, a daily age- and gender specific multivitamin may be a good option for autistic individuals, when a well-rounded diet is not always possible.  Some studies indicate that deficiencies in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids may amplify behavioral symptoms such as irritability and hyperactivity among autistic individuals.  Both of these mainstream dietary supplements are safe for use in both children and adults (just make sure the child gets a children’s multi).

For additional information on this condition view the Autism Speaks website.

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