When autism experts begin discussions on supplements and dietary changes for children with autism, there are generally two camps – those that believe nutrients can benefits kids on the spectrum, and those who don’t.
In a study released earlier this year in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers with the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network determined that supplements and special diets for autistic children led to an overload of some nutrients, including potentially unsafe levels of vitamin A, folic acid and zinc, but were not providing adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D.
“Few children with autism spectrum disorder need most of the micronutrients they are commonly given as multivitamins,” says lead researcher Patricia Stewart, a nutritionist in the Autism Speaks ATN at the University of Rochester Medical Center. It “often leads to excess intake that may place children at risk for adverse effects. When supplements are used, careful attention should be given to adequacy of vitamin D and calcium intake.” (Ref. 1)
Picky eaters need a hand
The right supplements, on the other hand, have the potential to change everything.
“Feeding and nutrition are major issues for many children with autism,” comments developmental pediatrician Paul Wang, Autism Speaks’ head of medical research.
Part of the issue is that children with autism tend to be picky eaters, meaning they often have nutritional deficits. They key is to fill those voids without overdoing it with other nutrients.
“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,” Wang said. (Ref. 1)
Studies have shown that children with autism have higher levels of oxidative stress, which means they have more free radicals roaming the body and damaging cells – and fewer antioxidants to fight them off.
A 2012 study from Stanford found that a certain antioxidant, called N-Acetylcysteine, or NAC, not only reduced irritability in children with autism, but also helped ease repetitive behaviors.
The study was small, and included just 31 participants, but the results are promising.
“We’re not talking about mild things: This is throwing, kicking, hitting, the child needing to be restrained,” said Dr. Antonio Hardan, the primary author of the new study, about the irritability that can impact up to 70 percent of autistic children. “It can affect learning, vocational activities and the child’s ability to participate in autism therapies.” (Ref. 2)
Fix the gut, ease symptoms of autism
According to Lesley LaLuzerne, founder and director of operations for the non-profit Bridge the Gap for Autism, the impact of processed food on our overall health can’t be minimized when it comes to the increase in autism cases.
“100 years ago, what did we eat? Everything was grown from our gardens, produced from where we were,” she said.
As years passed, however, processed and fast foods – which contain virtually no nutrients – have become the norm for many busy families.
“I totally believe that we have put so much in our systems, that why the epidemic of autism is coming up so often,” she said. “A lot of kids of the spectrum, their guts don’t work.”
Improving gut bacteria – encouraging an increase in good bacteria through probiotics that help rebuild the body’s immune system – can have a big impact, she said.
Often, “we see the effects of autism wane,” she said.
In one study, children with autism were shown to have higher levels of a certain gut bacteria that can negatively impact the brain (Ref. 3), and could play a role in autism symptoms.
“We suspect that gut microbes may alter levels of neurotransmitter-related metabolites, affecting gut-to-brain communication and/or altering brain function,” said Dr. Dae-Wook Kang of the Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University, author of the 2014 study. (Ref. 3)
And while each child is different, the year-old study suggests that restoring a healthy digestive system has the potential to reduce symptoms of autism by replacing bad gut bacteria with the good stuff.
Kiwi-Klenz can bring healthy balance
Since the majority of our immune system is found in the gut, it makes sense that restoring gut health can have a big impact on the symptoms of autism.
One of the simplest ways to help support gut function is with Xtend-Life’s Kiwi-Klenz, which addresses gut health in four ways.
- It includes digestive enzymes that help the body break down foods, better ensuring that all the nutrients available in foods released through the digestive lining.
- It is packed with prebiotics that help feed existing probiotics while stimulating the growth of new bacteria.
- It includes phenolics, which help suppress the growth of bad bacteria, potentially reducing the amount of bacteria that could impact brain function in children with autism.
- It has soluble fiber to help maintain healthy bowel function.
“Correlations between gut bacteria and neurotransmitter-related metabolites are stepping stones for a better understanding of the crosstalk between gut bacteria and autism,” Kang said, adding that it “may provide potential targets for diagnosis or treatment.” (Ref. 3)