Treating Autism with Nutritional Supplements

November 26, 2007 at 8:44 pm 28 comments

Nutritional supplementation can bring dramatic change for many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). 

There are several reasons for treating Autism Spectrum Disorders with nutrient supplementation.    Many children with autism are deficient in digestive enzymes, resulting in poor digestion and inadequate absorption of nutrients.  Research published by the Defeat Autism Now! Project (DAN!) on the “Nutritional Status of Autistic Children”, and also by Tim Buie, M.D. of the Harvard Pediatric Gastroenterology Department, and others shows that most autistic children have a number of nutritional deficiencies.  For example, low vitamin B6, zinc, vitamins A and D, folate, vitamin B12, biotin, low B1, B3, and B5 function, low methionine levels, and low levels of essential fatty acids such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid, a component of omega-3 fatty acid) and GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid), abnormal mineral levels, and many others. 

Additionally, exclusionary diets may make nutritional supplementation necessary.  Many autistic children benefit from exclusionary diets such as the Gluten-free/Casein-free diet and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet; however, care should be taken to ensure adequate nutrient intake.  Furthermore, many autistic children are very picky eaters and self-limit the foods they eat, causing nutritional deficiencies and the need for supplementation. 

Nutritional deficiencies can cause neurological and immune system impairment.  Supplementation with vitamins and minerals is an important part of maintaining proper function of these body systems.  Jaquelyn McCandless, M.D., an expert in biomedical intervention for autism and author of “Children with Starving Brains”, reports that the vast majority of ASD children she treats show enormous benefit from vitamin and mineral supplementation – greater speech, more eye contact, and better behavior and sleeping patterns. 

There are a great number nutrients which may need to be supplemented.  By way of example, we’ll discuss a few of them here. 

Supplementation with the B vitamins helps maintain healthy nerve function, skin, and muscle tone.  The combined supplementation of Vitamin B6 (as Pyridoxal 5-Phosphate) and Magnesium has proven to be of significant benefit to autistic children.  B6 is necessary for normal brain function.  There have been numerous studies on B6 use in autism.  A double-blind, placebo controlled study proved supplementation with B6 and Magnesium led to increased eye contact, less self-stimulatory behavior (“stimming”) fewer tantrums, improved speech, a calming effect, and more normal behavior.  Vitamin D, a powerful antioxidant, is needed for proper brain development.  It is also helpful in increasing glutathione levels (which assists in detoxification of the body). 

Additionally, vitamin and mineral supplementation is needed to address the immune system impairment and oxidative stress experienced by many children with autism.  Supplementation with Vitamins A, C, and E promote healthy immune response.  Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants which fight free radicals and protect vulnerable brain cells from oxidative stress.  Zinc and Selenium are also essential for peak performance of the immune system. 

Supplementation with essential fatty acids is also beneficial for those with autism or attention deficit problems.  Fish oil and cod liver oil are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for normal brain development.  Omega-3 fatty acids further help behavior and learning by supporting proper levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. 

Most professionals recommend adding one supplement at a time in order to keep track of the child’s progress.  Take detailed notes of dates, dosages, and behavioral changes.  This supplement diary will offer encouragement as the child’s improvement is charted.  A note about nutritional supplements – not all are created equal, so do your homework to make sure you are getting high quality supplements. 

A final reminder – generally, the treatment of autism is a “marathon” and not a “sprint,” so be patient, be consistent, keep going, and look ahead for the brighter tomorrow!


Entry filed under: biomedical treatments, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Autism – Keeping Families Together Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Feeding the Brain

28 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Audrey Grant  |  January 27, 2008 at 10:40 am

    We are grandparents//guardians of our grandson (18) Andrew; highfunctioning autisum. He is currently in a program in Canton, Ma, JRC, since 12/17/07. Prior to that in 3 places; all using antipsychotic meds, (most worsening his behavior.) They will be eliminating all meds at this placement. We use our own psychiatrist/nuerolosist who deals heavily in alternative methods, and did an organic acid urine in August, 2006, indicating a great lack in B-vitamins, folate, and magnesium. His retic count has been consistently high in these placements, 2.5 and up, but they could not figure it out. Our doctor recommended supplements of actifolate, B complex supplement, and magnesium, (he is constantly constipated.) He also takes the Shacklee multi vitamin no iron, and a 500 mg vitaming esterC. This current placement has now refused to give Andrew thise supplements per their consulting doctor from uperstate NY, who claims these are megavitamins, and could be toxic, and their program is a “behavior program,” not a vitamin program. Their consulting doctor called our doctor for some documentation that these “Mega vitamins” that he recommended will help. Their consulting doctor is not satisafied with whatever our doctor sent, and quoted “it is old information, and not documented.” Andrew is not eating their “plant based” diet, and has lost 10lbs in 4 weeks, and has been rushed to the hospital with 103 temp, with bronchitus. He, by the way, has never been this sick, or had a temp this high. Also, back in July, 07, when we began discussions with this placement, we submitted the list of supplements to the director of admissions, who directed them to the nurse, who in turn stated they would accept Andrew with these supplements, and also our doctor as a consultant. They had 5 months to disagree, discuss, or deny these supplements. Can you suggest, or do you have any documentation that the “mega vitamins” can help? Do you have anything from other autistic caretakers who may use supplements? Any feedback, or direction I may go for help will be so much appreciated.
    Thank you.

    • 2. Jerome  |  October 8, 2011 at 8:50 am

      Try Vemma Next, the top childrens liquid vitamins. clinical studies,supplemental facts and awesome results in children 2-12!

  • 3. acttoday  |  January 27, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Hi Audrey,

    Thanks so much for your question!

    Vitamin and mineral supplementation has been proven to be effective in the treatment of autism. You can find an abundance of scientific evidence regarding the use of vitamin and mineral supplements on the website for the Autism Research Institute at Just key in “vitamins” on the site and you will be directed to many relevant articles, including data from scientific studies performed. Also, the Autism Research Institute has compiled information from over 23,700 parents who rated various treatments for autism. This “Parent Ratings of Behavioral Effects of Biomedical Interventions” can be found at Another extremely helpful article is “Summary of Biomedical Treatments for Autism” by James B. Adams, Ph.D. which can be found at

    An amazing book is “Autism: Effective Biomedical Treatments”, by Jon Pangborn, Ph.D. and Sidney MacDonald Baker, M.D. It is available online at It is written with the physician in mind, so buying an extra copy for your grandson’s physician may be a good investment!

    Of course, it is important to make sure that the vitamin and minerals are in their proper form and in the proper amount. Let’s take folic acid, for example. Most nutritional supplements (even many of those targeting autism) contain 400 mcg of folic acid, which is the RDA. However, children with ASD generally need the more active forms of folic acid such as 5-methyl-tetra-hydrofolate or folinic acid instead of just folic acid. Furthermore, the RDA for folic acid is 400 mcg, but most individuals with autism need 800 mcg of the active forms. Another example where the form of the vitamin is critical is with B12 – most vitamin supplements contain B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin. However, methylcobalamin has been proven to be most effective in children with autism spectrum disorders. Vitamin B6 is another example where form really matters. Using the correct form of vitamin B6 ensures utilization. While most supplements contain B6 in the form of Pyridoxine hydrochloride, children with autism respond better to the more active form, Pyridoxal 5-phosphate.

    I have reviewed countless numbers of nutritional supplements, including those specifically targeting autism. There isn’t one “perfect” supplement out there. I am currently working on finding or developing the ones that will work correctly for autism spectrum disorders. Check back – I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my research!

    Keep pressing on in your journey for healing for your grandson!

  • 4. Saad Bahr  |  April 5, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Thank you for your good article and research.

    Please send me some information about “perfect” active supplements that will work correctly for autism spectrum disorders. Please suggest some names that are available in the Canadian market.

    Thank you so much

  • 5. acttoday  |  April 14, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    I am actively working to find what I feel are the best formulations of supplements for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. Keep checking back – I will let you know when I have found just the right ones!

  • 6. Alicia  |  May 20, 2008 at 12:18 am

    I am searching for the most economically sound dye/additive free supplements? Is it Kirkman’s, New Beginnings, etc. Do you have any insight you can share? My 22-month old darling son recently started biomedical treatments and the supplement price goes up pretty quickly. Thanks.

  • 7. acttoday  |  May 23, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Hi Alicia,

    Yes, the number of supplements used in the treatment of autism can be great (especially at first), and we want to make sure we get the most for our money. As Dr. Amy Yasko pointed out in her book, “The Puzzle of Autism: Putting it All Together,” not all supplements are equal. Some brands of supplements are simply not as effective as others – the reasons for this could be poor quality ingredients, manner of storage, or failure to adhere to strict standards in the manufacture of the supplements.

    In treating autism, it is critical that supplements be free from common allergens (such as wheat, milk, corn, soy, yeast, gluten, and casein) and potentially harmful preservatives (sodium benzoate, for example, has been linked to hyperactive behavior in children). It is also important to purchase supplements which have been produced in facilities adhering to current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and which meet United States Pharmacopeia (USP) standards. And, of course, as I mentioned in my post “Treating Autism with Nutritional Supplements,” individual nutrients should be in the forms most appropriate for the treatment of autism.

    Focus on obtaining high-quality multivitamins, probiotics, omega 3 fatty acids, and enzymes. Look for multivitamin/mineral supplements that contain all the essential vitamins and minerals (and not just some of them) and also have therapeutic doses of 5-methyl-tetra-hydrofolate and Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate. Probiotics should be high potency (at least 25 billion CFUs). Omega 3 fatty acids should be in stable forms such as fish oil and cod liver oil, produced to be free from heavy metals, PCBs and other contaminants. (I don’t like Flax Oil because it easily goes rancid.) Enzymes should be high potency and the appropriate type for the foods eaten.

    By focusing on the type and quality of nutritional supplements, we ensure that we are getting what we are paying for and maximize potential benefits.

  • 8. Dr. David Lipman  |  July 17, 2008 at 10:50 am

    Hi Alicia,

    There is (and always has been) a lot of confusion as to what Autism and the Autistic Spectrum Disorders are. This starts with a significant problem with the way Autism is classified; Autism is considered a ‘mental disorder’. Since it has been classified as such since the 1940s, most physicians learn little to nothing about it. Its classification further breaks down Autism to be; an impairment in social interaction, repetitive behaviors and problems communicating. With these ‘defining characteristics’, it is no wonder that these children are placed into a structured special learning environment accompanied by behavior modification with little to no medical intervention.

    I understand Autism to be a biochemical and neurological problem that alters the way the brain and body develop, and eventually results in the social, behavioral and communication problems that these individuals experience. These characteristics are symptoms, and the result of a multi-system breakdown that went undiagnosed!

    We have let an entire generation of children slip through our fingertips and it is time to mobilize and get them back.If the top three defining characteristics were; under-connected brain circuitry, chronic gastrointestinal dysfunction and underlying autoimmune/inflammatory processes, we would see a very different treatment criteria established for Autism! In fact, based on the research, these three things are the true problems of Autism which eventually lead to the cognitive impairments.

    I will be hosting an event in which my colleague, Dr. Michael Gruttadauria will be sharing some important information regarding some ground-breaking news in the treatment of Asperger’s and Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

    A free teleconference is being offered on August 14th at 7pm est.

    Please go to: to register for this extremely informative event.

  • 9. Cyndi  |  August 28, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    I like: Yummi Bears, Child Bright by: Hero nutritionals
    Cal-Mag Zinc Liquid, by: MRM-USA

    We can not live without them!

  • 10. Randy  |  December 19, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Just to let other people know. Our son uses children’s love my brain DMG plus along with diet modification and his results have been amazing!!! One doesn’t work without the other though.

    here is a link

  • 11. Sharman  |  November 1, 2011 at 8:38 pm
    Kids Natural Calm Multi
    with 24 fruits and veggies, Omega -3 DHA and EPA vits and minerals and Amino Acids
    the only draw back – liquid for and tastes awful!! very sweet/ syrupy I choke it down and my unaffected son doesn’t mind it but the one who needs it the most refuses it!

  • 12. Dana  |  February 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    My child was diagnosed with Mild High-Functioning Autism last year, and his behavior has been out of control. We started him on Zoloft in December and I haven’t seen significant changes for the better on the contrary; he’s become more aggressive and is starting to do odd things. I talked to his doctor and we’re slowly going to stop medication but she wants to try something else. I don’t! I don’t want to experiment with psychotic medication this young (he’s going to be 6). I want to change his diet and try supplements to see if this is a better option, but I feel lost. I need a lot of help and I don’t know how to tell his doctor that I want to explore this route. I just want my baby to be ok and not fall apart every second of the day 😦

    • 13. acttoday  |  March 17, 2012 at 11:45 pm

      Dana, Please forgive my delay in responding. I hope you receive this – please confirm your receipt. I am sorry to hear your son is having a tough time. Again, I am not a doctor, but I have been extensively reading about the biomedical treatment of autism for seven years. I am not a casual reader – I have a doctorate-level degree in an area that is centered around research (I will not state the type of degree). This does not mean you should not verify every thing I say. I never take anyone’s word for anything, and I always read conflicting views to help in my search for truth. That being said, there is an abundance of information regarding the adverse effects of anti-depressant medicines such as Zoloft. Have you read the parent ratings of biomedical treatments which is published by the Autism Research Institute? Here is a link:
      While the Autism Research Institute is not what it used to be, I believe the parent ratings information they publish to be free from bias. Notice that the treatments with the highest percentage of reported improvement were chelation and methy-B12 shots (74% and 72%), and anti-fungal medicines showed high percentages of improvement as well. Most anti-depressants did not show favorable statistics. I don’t condemn any parents for trying pharmaceutical medicines – we each should make decisions regarding our children without interference from other people, from the government, from a physician-member group, or from bureaucratic child-welfare agencies that conceal their greed and selfishness with deceptive phrases such as “the best interest of the child.” In a free society, parents MUST ALWAYS be presumed to be acting with the utmost love, care, and concern for their children. If pharmaceutical medicines make a child feel great, I am happy for the child and for his parents. If they do not, I support and applaud parents like you who actively seek more information to help their children!
      I’ll toss a few ideas and thoughts out there – researching them might help to find answers. Consider blood sugar issues; neurotransmitters (check out Neuro Science – they have urine testing for brain neurotransmitters that affect mood and behavior); hormone levels such as thyroid, cortisol, ACTH, testosterone, etc.; and metabolic issues (Great Plains Laboratory has urine organic acids and other metabolic testing that can help to pinpoint the imbalances (such as bacterial, fungal, fatty acids, metabolic errors) that may be causing or contributing to difficult behavior.
      I wish you the best in your search for answers for your son. There is no one else who will work harder or care more for him. I encourage you to have perseverance in your journey!
      “For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst and provide for it.” Patrick Henry

  • 14. darlene  |  August 11, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    i have a grandson who is 3 1/2 and he refuses to eat anything! all he consumes is soymilk and instant breakfast in his bottle. he is a very busy little boy! he does not talk hardly at all anymore. he talks in a whole different language(i hope you know what i mean) he does say some one sylable words. he is not pottie trained. i am wondering if it would be a good idea to put some ensure supplement in his bottle? he is being seen at childrens hospital and is scheduled for an egd in sept. i realize i have much to learn and i am working on it. i love this little guy very much and want to help him.
    thank you so much

    • 15. acttoday  |  August 15, 2012 at 10:32 am

      Hi Darlene,
      Thanks so much for your post. I applaud your efforts as a caring Grandmother!

      Remember, I am not a doctor, nor can I give any medical advice or treatment, so my comments are simply from the perspective from which so many parents have learned – from another parent! I’ll just tell you what I would do….

      If your grandson were my son, I would immediately take him off of soymilk. Soymilk is a huge problem for several reasons. First, it is an ESTROGEN promoter – something that males should not be consuming. Also, soy is one of the top 8 food allergens. Many people will crave the very foods to which they are allergic. I had controlling cravings for wheat and milk for many years. After finding out, through testing, that I am allergic to both of these, I complely removed them both (and soy) from my diet. I went years without having either, and accidently consumed some wheat. Within an hour, I had horrible hives over my entire body and a digestive problem that took months to fix. I grew up eating both wheat and milk, and I can’t help but wonder how much stronger my body would be today if I had not eaten these things in my growing years.

      Additionally, soy can create the same problems as gluten and casein in many people, especially those with autism or other behavioral disorders. Here’s a clear and concise article from Great Plains Laboratory about the problems with the gluten and casein peptides. Soy contains soymorphin which binds to opiate receptors in the brain, and some articles state that the location is in the temporal lobes, which has much to do with language and communication.

      I do not know the practitioner associated with this site, but the following article gives a short explanation of food allergies, and also points out the addictive nature of the proteins (peptides) in wheat, milk, and soy.

      We avoid milk, wheat, and soy as if our lives depend on it (they do!!). I use Rice Dream Original Classic – it is NOT enriched with calcium or vitamin D and has less sugar than some of the other varieties. It is also gluten free. There are other brands of rice milk that may not be gluten-free due to the presence of rice syrup that has been cultivated with gluten-containing items. (A side note – after my own research, and based on my own family’s needs, I made a decision to avoid ALL calcium supplementation. Do your own research.) Rice Dream has several varieties of rice milk which you can try. Also, some brands of Almond Milk may be okay, assuming there is no allergy to almonds.

      We have to be willing to consider that everything we have ever believed about nutrition may not be true. I grew up hearing that I needed three glasses of milk to form strong bones. This is simply not the truth, and this lie made me very sick for many years. When we are willing to have our mindsets confronted with information from all perspectives, we begin walking down the road to finding the truth. Sorting it all out takes a while, but now I know exactly what I believe and WHY I believe it.

      I know making changes in diet is difficult, especially for children. But my suggestion is – be strong and resolute. Children should not control their diet – parents (and other caregivers like Grandparents, like you!) are in charge. Because we love them, we want them to be “happy,” but true happiness is greatly hindered by poor health. Happiness for children comes from the security received through a loving and caring family who are willing to do what is best, in love, for their children, even when it is tough. I wish you great strength, peace, and courage as you bring positive changes for your grandson’s health! Blessings to you and your family!

      P.S. Check out my blog for some recipes. Also, check back soon – I will be posting new recipes soon.

  • 16. nutrition Facts  |  November 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Hello there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it
    is truly informative. I’m gonna watch out for brussels. I’ll
    be grateful if you continue this in future. Numerous people will be benefited from your writing.

    • 17. acttoday  |  January 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm

      Thanks for your comment! Sorry for the late reply. I’m trying to catch up on all the recent comments I have received.
      Blessings for 2013. Let me know if there is any way I can help.

  • 18. Christy Zimmermann  |  January 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Hello, I have a 4 year old daughter with a PDD diagnosis, she was born with an atrial septal defect and is post open heart surgery, we feel many of her delays were related to this heart problem. She has made significant improvement In the 6 months since her surgery. I have however, put her on the GFCF diet and noticed even more changes, she has a higher attention span, is more engaged, having reciprocal conversations with us, etc.. All of her therapists say they don’t see autism at all, “she is way too social and in this world”. She has a speech therapist, OT, and PT. we got her therapy right after her 1st birthday due to “developmental delays”. We started her in pre-k @ age 3, and she is in pre-k this year as well in an integrated classroom. I give her juice plus when she will eat it, other than the gfcf diet, I give her cod liver oil or flaxseed oil when necessary. I have been researching a lot, I do not have a DAN dr. And can’t afford one honestly, do you know a general list of some supplements that I can give her??? I need some help, thanks, Christy

    • 19. acttoday  |  January 13, 2013 at 9:37 pm

      There are several resources from which you could compile your own list. There is not a general list because there is no “one-size fits all” therapy for autism. Check out the autism book written by Dr. Syndey Baker and John Pangborn – it lists many therapies and the reasons they are used. You can also read writings by Dr. Jaqueline McCandless and also Dr. Kurt Woeller. I’ll have more time later in the week or next week to help you find more resources to assist you in compiling your list. Thanks for your patience!

  • 20. motleymommi  |  January 22, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    DAN dr.’s will work with a patient financially depending on sincerety of the situation- I’m a school bus driver(pay sucks lol), on a major budget but got a DAN dr. for my son and its not bad at all. Budget strategically and appts and supplements can be affordable. My son was diagnosed severe- now his teachers say if you point to his classroom and try to pick out the autistic kid, you can’t because he blends in so well. He’s 5. Diagnosed at around 3.5. Started naturapathic route probably around 3 when I realized hmmmm…something is going on. He made some crazy good progress since. Don’t use pharmaceutical stuff. Ya, I’m proud. He’s awesome and I stayed persistant with dealing with autism and rewiring the circuits. He’s not just my son, he’s my shopping buddy and he’s hilarious when we shop. The kid even has girlfriends(he’s a big flirt and like to charm the gals). He started off non-verbal, flapped his hands, spun wheels, obsession with lights and light switches, food aversions, constipated, ran in straight lines, big meltdowns. Not bad,huh? B12, cod liver oil, probiotics, and of course additional supps DAN dr. prescribes, works wonders. Diet changes too make a difference. Lots of fantastic info online but DAN dr will customize the care for the patient. My son is on different group of supps than his buddy at school e.g. . What works for one may not work for another, leave that to the DAN dr to determine that.
    Good luck 🙂

  • 21. felister.  |  March 27, 2013 at 4:29 am

    Thank you for your encouragement a mother of four year old son.hav started giving him the omega 3 fatty oil and culcium good for an autistic child?

    • 22. acttoday  |  May 5, 2013 at 11:33 pm

      Thanks for reading!
      I’m sorry I can’t directly answer your question. For an answer specific for your child, you’ll have to seek the advice from a doctor or certified clinical nutritionist. I do know that calcium is listed on the Autism Research Institute’s Parent Rating chart. I prefer for calcium to come from diet, and you can look up charts that show the calcium content of particular foods. I’ve also read books like “The Calcium Bomb” and extensive writings by Dr. Russell Blaylock that raise serious questions regarding the promotion of calcium supplements. A calcium level is an easy and inexpensive blood test, and if I were confronted with the question of whether to take a calcium supplement, I would want a calcium level run first. Again, I’m not a doctor, so anything I say is simply to provoke thought and help you gather your own information.

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Autism-Changing Tomorrow (ACT) blog is maintained to provide a place where ideas and thoughts relating to autism and treatments for autism may be exchanged. The information on Autism-Changing Tomorrow is of a general nature and is provided with the understanding that ACT or any individuals or entities associated with ACT are not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Any information in the postings, messages, articles, comments, and publications in or on the ACT blog must not be considered medical advice or recommendations and such information should not be considered a substitute for consultation with a board certified physician to address individual medical needs.

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