Autism and Nutrition

Autism, often called a spectrum disorder because of its varying degrees of severity,  affects millions of people worldwide, most of them male. The autism label came from American psychiatrist Leo Kanner in 1943. On the autistic spectrum there are ‘higher functioning’ individuals as in Asperger’s syndrome, and savants, who have “special talents.”

The developmental disabilities of Autism impact the individuals’ communication capabilities, resulting in characteristic repetitious body movements, language skill problems, and creates many challenges. There are learning disabilities, hyperactivity, allergies and obsessive behaviour associated with this disorder. In the 1950s parents were blamed for not giving the child enough love.

This CBC documentary ‘The Autism Enigma’ on the “Nature of Things” explores the causes of autism gathered from the latest research. In Somalia there is no such thing as autism yet when Somali people move to North America the rate of Autism skyrockets. Autism rates are almost non-existent in Amish and Mennonite communities which live off of the land. Autism rates are higher in cities than in rural country counterparts finally leading to the conclusion that the cause of autism is from toxicity, pollution and poor standard American diet.

Recent evidence suggests that autistic children have a higher than average need for nutrients, due to digestive imbalances that affect absorption of nutrients.[1] Food refusal (a common behavior) and food sensitivities (often an unnoticed problem), puts the group at further risk of nutritional deficiency. Skin conditions are very common along with salt and sugar cravings. Skin conditions are symptoms of allergies. Eliminate allergies so that improvement can take place.

Researchers have found that psychoactive peptides from improperly digested casein and gluten based foods affect brain function negatively in people with autism. Supplement with digestive enzymes like pancreatin,  or take plant enzymes like bromelain and papain before meals to aid digestion, or eat pineapple or papaya where these enzymes come from.

Probiotics are also beneficial for digestion because they add healthy flora.  Improving digestive functioning is crucial while detoxifying other organ systems like the pancreas, kidneys, immune, lymphatic, endocrine, nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Eliminating gluten, dairy and other dietary allergies, intolerances and sensitivities helps take the burden off the immune system and improves symptoms. Toxic bacteria in the digestion tract has a toxic impact on the brain. This area of research holds a promising result.

There have been a number of studies linking improved nutritional intake with alleviating the symptoms of autism. Vitamin B6 (pyroxidine) and Magnesium have improved the condition in half the studies.[1] Speech and language improved with pyroxidine, and Magnesium reduced the side effects from the vitamin B6, improving overall condition.[2] Magnesium is relaxing to the nervous system, helps with glucose metabolism assisting the pancreas, and aids detoxification. Vitamin B complex helps metabolism, hyperactivity, nervous disorders and aids gut health.  Vitamin B6 is particularly important for amino acid metabolism in the central nervous system. Its metabolic functions include maintaining sodium balance, facilitating the release of glycogen, hemoglobin synthesis and regulating the electrical balance of the heart, nerves and musculoskeletal systems. The best way to get nutrients is through the diet, but if this is difficult take supplements. Pill supplements are harder to absorb than liquid or powder supplements that turn in to a liquid.

Allergy regulator histamine, neurotransmitters acetylcholine and norepinephrine stress hormones all depend on pyroxidal-5-phosphate, an active coenzyme form of B6, in their metabolism.[3]B6 helps break down amino acids including the brains conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. Serotonin has a tranquil effect on mood and sleep, so it is helpful with hyperactivity.

Supplement essential amino acid L-tryptophan is a precursor that converts to serotonin and melatonin in the body also elevating these hormones.  A pharmaceutical drug prescribed for autism is Haloperidol (Haldol). This drug interferes with function of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine exhibits anti-depressant, and mild antioxidant actions that help with loss of motor control. The supplement amino acid L-tyrosine increases dopamine as well, but a broader scope of treatment is advised.

Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are not made by the body and are introduced in the diet.   Omega-3, Omega-6 EFA’s aid healthy growth and nourish of nerve, blood vessels and skin. EFA’s, also known as vitamin F, can increase immunity, insulin sensitivity, and decrease stress, bad cholesterol and toxicity. EFA’s also act on prostaglandins, which increase output of digestive secretions and helps smooth muscle control. They also act on histamine, which is helpful for inflammation and allergies. Also for allergies and impaired immune function, Vitamin C and E are helpful antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage and boost immunity. Vitamin C in powder form works the best.

EFA’s would also address the skin rashes some autistics suffer from.  Hemp seed and chia seeds are good vegetarian sources of EFA’s to merge in the diet.

Supplements can help balance blood glucose levels, detoxify and regulate the nervous, immune, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems.

Nutritional supplementation has helped in some studies, but improve digestive absorption first with herbal tonics and diet changes, and  eliminate food sensitivities before vitamins and supplements can work optimally. Although complex, as each case has its unique challenges, a joint approach using herbal tonics with dietary change and supplements that all promote detoxification is the ideal protocol. Explore Energy medicine to help with motor skills and to help release the pent-up stress hormones that happens when the body is not functioning correctly.

[1] Alternative Med Rev 2002 Dec 472-99

[2] Cochrane Database System Rev 2002

[3] Haas, Elson. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. 122-26


Bryna, Siegel. (1996). The World of the Autistic Child: Understanding and Treating Autistic Spectrum Disorders. United States: Oxford University Press.

Kidd PM-Autism-An Extreme Challenge

Autism-B6 and Mg-Alternative Med Rev 2002 Dec.7 (6) 472-99

“Autism,” Microsoft® Encarta ® online Encyclopedia 2004


Brudnak, M.A et al. (2002) Enzyme-based therapy for autism spectrum disorders-Is it worth another look? Medical hypotheses, 58(50), 422-428

D’Eufemia, P. et al (1996). Abnormal intestinal permeability in children with autism. Acta Paedicatrica. 85,1076-1079

Knivsberg, A.M., Reeichelt.K.L. Hoien.T, & Nodland, M. (2002). A randomized, controlled study of dietary interventions in autistic syndrome. Nutr Neurosci,2, 57-72

Haas, Elson M.D. Staying Healthy with Nutrition

Celestial Arts 1992


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