Healthy Q & A: Natural Autism Therapies

Q: My nephew has autism, and I wondered if there were any natural things I could recommend to his mother of things which might help him.  Thank you.

A: First, I’d like to say that there is no magical cure for autism.  I think certain people have done more harm than good in the realm of natural health, promising things would cure autism or shunning any sort of conventional medicine.

That being said, there are several natural things which have been shown to make a significant difference for many children and adults with autism.  The great thing about natural and alternative therapies is that they can be a wonderful compliment to conventional medical therapies.

The first thing I would mention is diet.  There have been many people with autism who have had a significant improvement after switching to a gluten free and casein free diet (casein is a protein found in milk that is added to many foods, and gluten is a protein found in wheat).  
In one study, 270 individuals, 149 with diagnosed autism, were given a GFCF (gluten free/casein free) diet for one year.  Each of the study participants were assessed for behavioral and physiological changes by parents, physicians, and teachers.  The results showed an improvement in 81 percent of autistic children after three months.

Vitamin B6 has also shown promise for treatment of autistic symptoms.  B6 works by aiding neurotransmitters in the brain.  There have been a number of favorable studies on B6 and autism.  One study on 33 autistic children ranging from 1 to 10 years old gave participants 0.6 mg of vitamin B6 and 6 mg of magnesium per pound of body weight for eight months.  The results showed improvements in social interactions in 23 patients, communication in 24 patients, and abnormal functioning in 17.  Interestingly, when treatment ceased, symptoms began to reoccur within a few weeks.

Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly those found in fish, can be helpful since omega 3s are needed for proper brain functioning.  There are countless studies on the many benefits of omega 3s.  There are several recent studies on omega 3s and autism.  One study found that children with autism who took 1.5 gram of omega 3 fatty acids daily had a reduction in hyperactive behavior.

Another small study found that 8 of 9 children who took 1 gram of omega 3 fatty acids had a significant reduction in symptoms as measured by the Aberrant Behavior Checklist.  The children had a 33% improvement in behavior and functioning.

Omega 3 fatty acids are not produced in the body, so if a person is not eating fatty fish multiple times a week, it is likely they’re deficient.  We have a number of great tasting omega 3 supplements for kids and adults that are not at all fishy tasting.  My favorite is Barlean’s Omega Swirl, a fish oil supplement that is made to be a creamy consistency rather than an oil.  Its great tasting and not at all fishy; I’d very much recommend it for both children and adults.