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Autism Introduction

:autism.jpg Autism is psychiatric condition and is diagnosed in early childhood. This unique affliction is characterized by significant deficits in social and language development, the presence of rituals and compulsive behavior, and a general retardation of intellectual development and capacity.

Although the cause of autism is not understood, it is believed to be an organic disease originating with a primary defect in neurotransmitter metabolism in the brain. [1] Some children with autism have been shown to have abnormal brain structure as well, though this characteristic is not necessary for a diagnosis. Autism may also have a genetic component, as monozygotic (identical) twins have a higher twin incidence than dizygotic (fraternal) twins.[2]

Autism affects children all over the world. It does not have any differences in incidence between different racial, social, or ethnic groups. Interestingly, autism affects boys 3-4 times as often as girls.[3]

Autism Symptoms

Diagnosis based on symptoms is usually evident by the age of 1, though onset of autism is no later than the age of 3. The first signs that may become evident to a parent are related to social defects. Children with autism are often very aloof. They do not allow intimate contact or the development of relations with either parent. These children no not form a normal attachment to their parents and exhibit an avoidance of gaze. Autism sufferers are also very focused on rituals and will want every event to be the same as the previous. When change does occur, they often have “temper tantrums,” or extreme outbursts They can, and may times do, attach themselves to an inanimate object. A decreased mental and intellectual function is also noted in these persons, which is often accompanied by the inability to communicate. This lack of communication usually results from an autistic individual being mute, or is caused by the delayed onset of speech.

Children with autism have a much lower IQ. The IQ test is used to help determine this prognosis. Children having an IQ less than 50 have a poorer outcome than those with an IQ higher than 50. Some children may have individualized neurological findings, such as impaired gait, poor coordination, and muscle jerking. Children with a lower IQ are also more likely to develop seizures. An EEG may or may not show abnormalities.[4]

Autism Statistics

  • The prevalence of autism is estimated to be anywhere from 1 in 250, to 1 in 500 children.
  • Currently, 1.5 million Americans are living with autism. That number is expected to increase to 4 million by the next decade.
  • There has been a 10-17% increase in the number of cases of autism each year.[5]

Autism Treatment

Conventional treatment of autism is focused around behavioral and psychological therapy, including special education. Children and families tend to derive the greatest benefit from an early intervention and immediate treatment strategy. Psychoactive medications may also be used to control the most aggressive and destructive of behaviors in autistic individuals. Some with the condition also develop seizures, and drug therapies can be equally effective in preventing the damage associated with these attacks. [6]

Nutrient therapy has been shown to be very useful in children and adults with autism. Many studies have shown that physiological and metabolic dysfunctions exist in the various body systems of patients with autism, especially the GI tract. Alternative treatment is focused on restoring balance to the body by providing deficient nutrients and supporting proper metabolism and functionality.

Supplements helpful for Autism

Multiple Vitamin Children and adults with autism have poor digestion and do not maximize the absorption of many critical nutrients. Because of this, autistic persons often suffer from chronic diarrhea and/or constipation, which hinders the absorption of nutrients via digestive tract. In one study, over 50% of children with autism were found to have low levels of Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B5, biotin, selenium, zinc, magnesium, some essential amino acids, and essential fatty acids. [7] All adults and more than half of children with autism can benefit from the supplementation of a high potency multivitamin and mineral combination. In fact, studies have shown marked improvements in sleep patterns and bowel habits in those using a vitamin/mineral supplement. This dietary supplementation also produces a related increase in the blood levels of several deficient nutrients. [8] It is important to note that the majority of individuals suffering from autism often have an elevated level of copper, therefore the chosen multi-vitamin should not include copper.

Vitamin C Vitamin C has been studied as an adjunct treatment in specific autistic disorders. One study showed that supplementation with Vitamin C reduced the severity of symptoms in patients with autism. The proposed mechanism was by enhancement of the dopamine pathways in the brain.[9]

Vitamin B6 Vitamin B6 has been used for several decades as a treatment for autism. It is not a cure, but can significantly help reduce the symptoms of the disease. Vitamin B6 is a cofactor for the production of many neurotransmitters in the brain. It has been shown to be of benefit for autistic patients when combined with the mineral, magnesium. In one particular clinical study, as many as 50% of patients showed significant improvement with B6 supplementation. And of those 30% remaining, some 20% also showed dramatic improvement post-study. [10] It has been suggested that some individuals with autism may also have an inborn defect in the metabolism of kynurenine. This is shown by an elevation in urinary homovanillic acid (HVA). Supplementation with B6 has been shown to decrease UHA and improve symptoms scores and behavior. [11]

Magnesium Magnesium is an essential mineral, used by the body various biochemical reactions. Although it is used primarily as an enzyme, it is also involved in processes associated with vital organs, tooth and bone structure, muscle function, enzyme activity, and the manufacturing of protein and DNA. This may prove extremely relevant in children suffering from autism, as magnesium is likely to be deficient in the majority of these individuals. [12] Magnesium also enhances the effects of Vitamin B6 when used in children and adults with autism.[13]

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA’s) Polyunsaturated fatty acids are deficient in many children suffering from autism. There is also an increase in the Omega 6 : Omega 3 fatty acid ratio that can sometimes be pro-inflammatory. [14] The essential fatty acid DHA is specifically low in children with autism. This unique polyunsaturated fatty acid is key for proper brain development and function. Supplementation with essential fatty acids has proved beneficial in study, and is often recommended by physicians. [15]

Vitamin A Vitamin A is important for proper function of cell membranes. Within the GI tract, vitamin A promotes both healing and structural integrity. This nutrient is deficient in over half of the children with autism. In clinical application, the supplementation with Vitamin A for 3 months improved the core symptoms of autism including language, eye contact, sleep, and the ability to socialize. [15]


1. CDC, National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), “Fast Stats: Anemia“.

2. National Institutes of Health (NIH), MedlinePlus, “Anemia”. www%2Emayoclinic%2Ecom%2Finvoke%2Ecfm%3Fid%3DDS00321

3. Murray MT and Pizzorno JE, eds. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, revised 2nd edition, CA: Prima Publishing, 1998: 237

4. Lynch SR. Ascorbic acid and iron nutrition. ASDC J Dent Child. Jan1981;48(1):61-

3.Murray MT and Pizzorno JE, eds. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, revised 2nd edition, CA: Prima Publishing, 1998: 237

5. Chan, S., Gerson, B., Subramaniam, S. The role of copper, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc in nutrition and health. Clin. Lab. Med. 1998 Dec; 18(4): 673-85.

6. Tamura H, et al. Anemia and neutropenia due to copper deficiency in enteral nutrition. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. Mar1994;18(2):185-9.

7. Gyorffy FJ, Chan H. Copper deficiency and microcytic anemia resulting from prolonged ingestion of over-the-counter zinc. Am J Gastroenterol. Aug 1992; 87(8): 1054-5.

8. Baik, H.W., Russell, R.M. Vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly. Annu. Rev. Nutr. 1999; 19: 357-77.

9. Andres, E. et al. Anemia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency in subjects aged over 75 years: new hypotheses. A study of 20 cases. Rev. Med. Interne 2000 Nov; 21(11): 946-54.

10. Brinch, L. et al. Folic acid deficiency can cause severe anemia and pancytopenia. Tidsskr. Nor. Laegeforen. 1990 May 30; 110(14): 1830-1.

11. Toriyama T, et al. Effects of high-dose vitamin B6 therapy on microcytic and hypochromic anemia in hemodialysis patients. Nippon Jinzo Gakkai Shi. Aug1993;35(8):975-80.

12. Natta CL, Reynolds RD. Apparent vitamin B6 deficiency in sickle cell anemia. Am J Clin Nutr. Aug1984;40(2):235-9.

13. Life Extension eds., Disease Prevention and Treatment, 4th ed. Florida: Life Extension Media, 2003.

14. Stoppard M. Family Health Guide, New York: DK Publishing, 2002.

15. Balch JF, and Balch PA. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 3rd ed. New York: Penguin Putnam Avery, 2000.