Common Nutritional Challenges Among Autism Spectrum Disorder Children

Common Nutritional Challenges Among Autism Spectrum Disorder Children

In the largest study of its kind, researchers with the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN) uncovered nutritional deficiencies and excesses children with autism commonly experience.  Many of the children in their study were consuming high levels of vitamin A, folic acid and zinc while not getting enough calcium and vitamin D. 

The study appears  June 5th, 2015 issue of  Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The research was supported through the ATN’s role as the federally funded Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P).

Families are encouraged to have their healthcare providers individually assess diet and nutrient levels in children with autism who are on restricted diets. Many children with autism tend to be selective eaters. Gluten and casein-free diets may require additional supplementation and careful selection of foods in order to not eat particular foods in excess.

 The study, including 368 children, ages 2 to 11 years, diagnosed with autism, evaluated patients at five Autism Speaks ATN sites: Cincinnati Children's Hospital, University of Arkansas, University of Colorado, University of Pittsburgh and University of Rochester. Twelve percent of the children were on a gluten-free/casein-free diet. Nutritional supplementation was taken by 78% of the participants.

After training children’s caregivers to keep detailed diaries of all foods, drinks and supplements consumed, the researchers analyzed three consecutive days of data. The food diaries were very detailed including recipes, brand names and photographs of nutritional supplement labels. 

The investigators discovered that the children were consuming vitamins and minerals in amounts typical of children without autism and they presented similar deficiencies. These primarily involved vitamins D, E, calcium, potassium and choline.  Overconsumption of vitamin C and copper was common among participants ages 2 to 3, and excess manganese and copper was common for those 4 to 8 years old.  Around half of the autistic children taking supplements were still not getting enough calcium.  Almost one-third were not getting enough vitamin D.

One interesting thing to note was that the children on a gluten-free/casein-free diet tested higher in more magnesium and vitamin E than the other children did. Researchers believe this may be due to the substitution of soy and nut-based products for dairy.  Children on a gluten-free/casein-free diet were also more likely to be getting enough vitamin D than those with a less restricted diet.

“Feeding and nutrition are major issues for many children with autism,” commented developmental pediatrician Paul Wang, Autism Speaks’ head of medical research. “This new study shows that both nutritional deficiencies and nutritional excesses are common. We don't know the consequences of all these nutritional imbalances. But some could be important.”

Dr. Wang linked the low calcium intake to the unusually high rate of bone fractures seen in children with autism.

“Many children and families affected by autism can greatly benefit from the support of nutritionists and feeding specialists to ensure both immediate and long-term health,” Dr. Wang concludes.  Having a doctor experienced with treating ASD patients can be instrumental in getting the right nutrition and supplementation leading to better outcomes.  

Dr. Carine has been treating ASD patients for over 17 years.  Her focus on nutrition and supplementation, osteopathy and routine testing for nutritional deficiencies and excesses has led to positive outcomes.

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