Children with autism who take supplements of vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids may have fewer symptoms than kids who don’t, a review of past studies suggests. The review was conducted by researchers from Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Maranon and Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain.
Researchers examined data from 27 randomized controlled trials involving a total of 1,028 children with autism spectrum disorder. Kids were randomly selected to take various dietary supplements, including vitamins or omega-3s, or to take a dummy pill instead.
Omega-3s and vitamin supplements were more effective than the placebo pill at improving several symptoms, functions, and clinical domains, researchers found. Gains varied in the trials but included improved language and social skills, reduced repetitive behaviors, improved attention, less irritability and behavior difficulties, and better sleep and communication.
Even though the analysis was based on controlled experiments - the gold standard for testing the effectiveness of medical interventions - the individual studies were too varied in what supplements they tested and how they measured results to draw any broad conclusions about what type or amount of supplements might be ideal for children with autism.
How dietary interventions may work to help children with autism spectrum disorder are unknown.
What is autism spectrum disorder?
About 1 in 59 kids have autism spectrum disorder, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s much more often diagnosed in boys than in girls.
Early symptoms of autism can vary but may include repetitive behaviors like hand flapping or body rocking, extreme resistance to changes in routine, and sometimes aggression or self-injury. Behavioral, educational, speech and language therapy may help reduce the severity of symptoms in some children.
There are no medications that can cure autism or treat the main symptoms, but there are some drugs that can help children function better by improving symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, depression, or seizures.
Can diet help?
While some therapists treating kids with autism advise parents to put children on special diets, rigorous scientific studies haven’t proven that there’s a good approach to recommend to all kids with autism.
Complicating matters, children with autism may have a range of health issues related to food. They may, for example, be sensitive to the taste, smell, color, or texture of certain foods and eat a very limited selection of items or have difficulty focusing on meals. They might also be prone to constipation, or have medication interactions that impact their appetite.
Kids with autism shouldn’t go on a special diet without first seeing a registered dietitian nutritionist to ensure they’re getting enough nutrients and calories to thrive.
Even though vitamin and omega-3 supplements appeared to help children with autism in the current study, it’s premature to advise parents to start giving kids these supplements.
Source: Pediatrics, online October 4, 2019.
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