There is no magic formula to curing autism. However, supplements can be one of the several “mitigators” that can make the condition less severe.
The best supplements for people with autism include some multivitamins, some single vitamins, digestive enzymes, probiotics, prebiotics and omega-3 fish oil. The health provider might recommend one or more of the supplements, depending on the need of the autistic individual.
This article dissects what nutrients are critical and what supplements can be used as part of the treatment plan for individuals with ASD.
Critical Nutrients for People with Autism
We previously discussed how nutrients of carbohydrates, proteins and fats could impact the health of an autistic person. We now look into why water, vitamins and minerals are critical for people with autism as well.
Water Is Clearly Important for Health
Water is vital for many reasons. It flushes out toxins from body, provides an environment for critical metabolic processes. However, water alone is not enough. An autistic person also needs other foods with vitamins and minerals to keep the body healthy.
The foods that contain a lot of water are the vegetables, fruits, and grains. Fruits are high in water, but they also contain a lot of sugar. Besides getting water from the foods, an autistic people should drink 4-6 cups more clear water a day.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for vision, immune system, and reproduction. Getting enough vitamin A will help body fight off colds, the flu, and other illnesses or recover faster.
There are many kinds of foods that contain vitamin A, some better than others. For example, the most beneficial sources of vitamin A are from liver, dairy products, eggs, and vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach, collards, turnips, mustard greens, parsley, and cauliflower.
It is recommended to get 200mcg of vitamin A per day which most autistic people might not get enough of it from food.
Vitamin B9 Folate
Folate is needed for healthy red blood cell growth and division. It is important for healthy hair, nails and skin. It also helps the digestive system work properly. Folate deficiency can lead to health problems like cancer, heart disease and aging prematurely. Some foods that are good sources of folate include dark leafy green vegetables, beans, peas, seafood and liver.
If an autistic individual doesn’t get enough foliate from food, they might be recommended by the health provider to take a proper amount of folic acid in supplements, a synthetic form of foliate.
Natural Stress Reliever Vitamin B12
Vitamin B-12 is one of the best natural stress relievers. It is necessary for the proper function of adrenal glands, which produce the primary stress hormone cortisol. It also promotes the growth of new cells, maintains healthy brain function, and helps nervous system function properly. B12 also plays a role in DNA synthesis and in the production of red blood cells.
Vitamin B12 is considered as one of the most under-recognized and important vitamins. It is also the only vitamin that is naturally found in animal products like meat, dairy, and seafood. It is not found in plant-based foods like grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, or soy.
Deficiency in vitamin B-12 can lead to neuropsychiatric problems such as confusion, irritability, depression and fatigue. If people with autism don’t have enough B12 intakes from the food alone, the health provider might recommend the proper B12 supplement as needed.
Powerful Antioxidant Vitamin C
Vitamin C is essential for the growth, development and repair of body tissues. It’s important for many body functions including formation of collagen, absorption of iron and proper immune system. We all need more vitamins C that we get most of them from fruits and vegetables.
While most people get enough vitamin C from diet, many autistic individuals don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables. The healthcare giver might recommend taking multi-vitamin with vitamin C each day.
Vitamin D carries so many benefits for health that researchers have spent a lot of energy to study its role with autism. It is found that autistic children with low vitamin D level present more aggressive or repetitive behaviors. The study doesn’t end here while we learn these 4 amazing benefits from vitamin D.
- Vitamin D helps the brain develop healthy nerve cells. It also protects neurons and reduces inflammation to the brain.
- It is critical for immune response and helps decrease the risk of infection and disease.
- The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium for strong, healthy teeth and bones.
- Vitamin D helps regulate the sleep cycle. It is necessary for the production of melatonin, the hormone involved in the regulation of human circadian rhythms and sleep.
The body can convert cholesterol to vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sunlight. Other natural sources of vitamin D are some seafood like all fish and some shellfish, fortified milk and other dairy products, eggs, and mushrooms.
Heavily Weighted Iron
Iron is one of the most important minerals for health and well-being. It is needed for energy, growth, and to produce some antibodies. However, excessive iron can discomfort the gastrointestinal system or accumulate in the organs which cause fatal damage to the liver or brain.
Therefore, it is important that we get enough iron but not too much. The best way to ensure that we get the right amount of iron is to eat foods that are high in iron. Examples of such foods are beef, pork, chicken, turkey, legumes, dried fruit, nuts, and green vegetables.
If an autistic individual doesn’t get enough iron from food, they might be recommended by the health provider to take a proper amount of iron supplement.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for many functions in the body. The body needs it from food or supplement.
- This nutrient helps calm nervous system and ease sleep problem.
- It regulates blood sugar levels, and blood pressure which can help treat migraines and other types of headaches.
- It is needed in making protein and DNA and maintaining a healthy immune system.
- Magnesium works with calcium to build strong bones.
Many foods that contain magnesium include whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, milk, meat, fish, bananas, avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, oranges, mushrooms, tomatoes, and spinach.
Most people with autism might not get enough magnesium from food alone.
Zinc is an important mineral that is needed by the body for proper immune system. It helps the body to fight infections, aids in tissue growth and repairs tissue damage. Zinc works with white blood cells to help them identify and destroy harmful organisms.
Zinc can be found in cells throughout the body. It activates the enzymes involved in breaking down the carbohydrates. It is also needed by an enzyme that maintains the taste and smell function. Therefore, Zinc deficiency can cause the disorder that related to smell and taste.
Diet with Zinc-rich food is a good way to get more zinc into the body. They include whole grains, milk products, and other zinc-rich foods including red meat, poultry and oyster.
6 Strategies to Help Brain Health for Autism
The core symptoms of autism are the deficits in communication and relating to others. It is very important to improve the brain health of autism people through healthy diets. This will help their cognitive ability to learn, remember, communicate, solve problems and think logically.
Here are 6 simple strategies to help an autistic brain grow and function at best throughout the day:
1. Eat Whole Grains –There are various health benefits when eating whole grain, especially B12 from it provides better energy and concentration.
2. Prioritize Super Fruits and Vegetable – Our list of super fruits and veggies features apple, avocado, berries, bananas, grapes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprout, cucumber, garlic, kale and onion. They’re packed with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, healthy fats and antioxidants that can help build and improve brain health.
3. Balance Diet with High Quality Proteins- Proteins are the building block for brain cells neurons that communicate with organs. Eating high-protein foods will give the brain extra energy, which provides greater mental clarity and ability to focus. Eat enough complete proteins from meat, dairy, eggs, and fish that are high-quality with complete proteins.
4. Add More Omega-3 Fats – Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients to support brain health including thinking and memory. They can be found in fatty fish, nuts, seed, avocados and canola oil.
5. Try Hard with choline rich Food – Choline is a nutrient that help brain and nervous system regulate memory, mood, muscle control, and other functions. Some beans, nuts, seed, dairy products, eggs, fish, meat, potatoes and cruciferous vegetables are good source of this nutrient.
6. Learn About Supplements – One of the most important things that autism parents can do for children with autism is to make sure that their diets are nutritionally complete. If that’s not an option, ask health provider about supplements that can help provide the necessary nutrients including vitamins and minerals before they can totally improve the diet.
The supplements are needed to either help body absorb the nutrients or provide the extra nutrients when body doesn’t get enough from diet naturally. Each supplement is designed to target different nutritional deficiency in the body. Although supplements might help with the deficiency, they are not the matrix of the more the better. Here is,
Must-Know Before Dealing with Supplements
It is important to get advice from a health provider about supplements for nutrient deficiencies. If taken improperly, some vitamins and minerals can be toxic or mask deficiencies for other nutrients.
- The body uses 13 vitamins including vitamin A, C, D, E, K and vitamin B group of 8. Vitamin C and B group vitamins are water-soluble, which means the excessive vitamin C and B can be flushed out of body from sweat and urine. Vitamin A, D, E, K are fat soluble that can build up in body and become toxic when body has too much of them.
- Minerals are very important to the health. The body needs minerals to make enzymes and hormones and to keep bones, muscles, heart, and brain working properly. There are two kinds of minerals, macro minerals and trace minerals. The body needs large amount of macro minerals that include calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and sulfur. On the other hand, it only needs small amounts of trace minerals that include copper, fluoride, iron, manganese, nickel and zinc.
- Mineral supplements can cause a number of side effects, such as tooth staining, increased urination, stomach bleeding, and confusion, especially when overdosed.
- It’s probably not a good idea to take 2 supplements together. Optimal absorption for some supplements can depend on the time of day, before or after meals. Certain vitamins and mineral can have adverse interactions that can be harmful to the health.
- Most multivitamins are formulated in such a way to counteract any potential negative nutrient-nutrient interactions. They contain the appropriate levels of both synergistic and antagonistic nutrients, meaning that some vitamins and minerals can enhance or inhibit others.
- Digestive enzyme supplements also could interact with antacids and certain diabetes medications. They may cause side effects including abdominal pain, gas and diarrhea.
- Don’t use calcium and iron supplements at the same time since they compete for absorption.
The knowledge of nutrition can be helpful for autism parents to learn about their autistic child better if it is necessary to discuss the supplements with the health provider.
Supplements For People with Autism
Different nutritional gaps might require different supplements if recommended.
Supplements for Autistic Picky Eaters
Autistic picky eaters only eat very limited variety of food. More often they don’t enough fruits, vegetable, fatty fish, nuts and seeds.
The health provider most likely recommend multivitamins and fish oil for them
The Best Multivitamins for Autism
Although nutritional needs vary by the individuals, multivitamins should have proper amount of all essential vitamins and most of the minerals in general.
Experts say these ingredients that multivitamin should have, no matter what brand you choose.
- They should contain all fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K, up to 100% of daily value.
- At least 100% DV of vitamin C is on the list
- B vitamins should be included and methylated for optimal absorption.
- They should include most essential minerals like calcium, chromium, iodine, magnesium, potassium, selenium and zinc.
Besides the above, the best multivitamins for autistic individuals should:
- Help close the nutritional gap from diet properly with optimal absorption.
- Be tested by third party with high standard of quality.
- Not add allergenic ingredients or artificial ingredients, colors and flavors.
- Include brain boosting ingredients like cucumin, choline or grape seed extract.
There are a lot of different types and makers of multivitamins on the market. Each maker might use different ingredients to fill different nutritional gaps from diet.
Look into the nutrition from diet and talk with the health provider about the one that fills the nutritional gap better.
Fish Oil-Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to brain health for protecting brain tissue and helping communication between brain cells.
Studies suggested that people with autism tend to have a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in their brain. It is not surprised to know people with autism who might have brain fog or lack of concentration because of low levels of omega-3.
Most autistic picky eaters don’t have enough intake of omega-3 from diet alone. Fish oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids that can supplement the need for them.
There are many brands of fish oil on the market and they come in capsule, liquid and gummy forms.
Supplements to Improve Gut Health
Many autistic individuals have problems in gut health. They can struggle with producing sufficient enzymes to break down carbohydrates, protein, and fat or absorb the nutrients.
Signs of an unhealthy gut can be from upset stomach, sleep disturbances, constant fatigue to autoimmune conditions.
The digestive enzymes can be created naturally in the body to digest protein, fat and carbohydrates with healthy guts. They can be also obtained from natural foods or supplements. Foods that contain natural digestive enzymes include avocados, banana, honey, ginger, kefir, kimchi, mangoes, miso, papayas, pineapples and sauerkraut.
The most common symptoms of digestive enzyme insufficiency normally first appear in the gut. It may last from days to weeks that the symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal pain or discomfort.
The doctor might recommend a test to diagnose the deficiency of any enzymes. Using a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme can be helpful to break down food to make it easily absorbable.
Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria found in certain foods or supplements.
It is very common that autistic picky eaters have gut issues. The symptoms of the gut issues include bloating, constipation diarrhea, stomach discomfort or pains. These can be caused by imbalance of gut bacteria and yeast overgrowth.
A health provider might recommend to use probiotics for a period to improve the gut health.
Prebiotics are types of indigestible fiber from foods or supplements that feed the good bacteria in the digestive system. The best prebiotic foods include apple, asparagus, banana, barley, flax seeds, garlic, oats and onion. They can provide the fuel to the gut bacteria that can boost digestion and absorption of the nutrients.
If a picky autistic eater doesn’t have enough fiber in the diet, the health provider might recommend taking a fiber supplement or multivitamins with fiber.
Supplements to Help Hyperactive Behaviors
Many autistic children have coexisted symptoms of hyperactive behaviors. Single vitamins like magnesium, zinc or iron can help manage the behaviors when recommended and used properly.
Magnesium-Proper levels of magnesium in the body can help autistic individuals relax and calm a busy brain.
Zinc- Appropriate level of zinc may reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity that in turn help improve attention. High levels of zinc can be harmful.
Iron-Some experts believe that deficiency of iron can cause some behavioral problems in children. They include irritation, disruption and short attention span. High iron levels may be harmful.
Supplements to Help Sleeping Problems
Many autistic children experience sleeping issues that can be caused by nutritional deficiency.
Sleep helps body and brain function properly in learning, memory, problem-solving and creativity.
There are many factors that can impact quality or the quantity of sleep.
Besides physical and medical conditions, deficiencies in producing sleep hormone melatonin and certain nutrients can cause sleep problems
Melatonin is a hormone that the body can produce naturally to signal brain when it is the time to sleep. The body might experience difficulty of falling in sleep or poor quality of sleep when it doesn’t product enough of it.
The health provider might recommend 3-5 mg of melatonin for the these kinds of sleep problems that might not be caused by medical condition. It remains uncertain for use long term for people with autism.
Magnesium is a mineral that is important for brain health. It may help regulate the production of melatonin, calm the mind and body, which makes it easier to fall asleep.
Some studies show that insufficient levels of magnesium in body may be linked to sleep problems.
A health provider may recommend magnesium supplement together with melatonin to help you optimize the quality and quantity of sleep.
Amino Acid supplements
Among many other sleep-promoting supplements on the market that may be beneficial to sleep, supplements of amino acids glycine, GBGA, tryptophan, l-theanine are more researched and respected. They are considered natural sleep aid that have less side effect than prescription ones.
They are the most important amino acids for the body. It can increase serotonin levels that help body produce more melatonin subsequently. It may lower body temperature and calm the brain, therefore, it might help fall in sleep and the quality of the sleep.
Foods that are rich in glycine include meat, eggs, fish, beans, spinach, kale and bananas.
Talk to the health provider to find out if the autistic individual needs one of these supplements to help sleep issues.
Nootropic Supplements for Autism
Nootropic supplements are created to improve brain health in improving cognitive skills that include memory, focus and problem-solving skills. A big part of autism care is to optimize brain health in these areas.
Although nootropic supplements are the originally synthetic compounds that stimulate the brain to improve memory and focus, some best brands now have improved it to contain natural ingredients. They become a popular cognitive enhancer.
These are the key ingredients that might be beneficial for cognitive health in high quality nootropic supplements.
Bacopa monnieri is a herb that has been used to reduce stress for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. Bacopa can increase blood flow to the brain which brings more oxygen and nutrients to it.
Clinical studies found that bacopa monnieri can enhance memory and spatial learning.
Huperzine A is an extract from the plant huperzia serrata that have been used in Chinese medicine to improve memory. Studies show that it can increase the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. It is a key ingredient in most nootropic supplements.
Phosphatidylserine is a fatty substance that can be found in some foods that protects the brain cell membranes. It can help the release of neurotransmitter that benefit memory and attention.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort is a shrubby plant with clusters of yellow flowers that has been used to treat nervous disorders in many European countries. It has antibacterial, antioxidant and antiviral properties. St. John’s wort can act as a protector for the neurotransmitters that are responsible for mood regulation and concentration.
Although there are other ingredients besides the above that seem have the properties to improve cognitive functions, further research is needed to confirm that no adverse effects from these substances on people with autism. As always, have a conversation with a health provider before taking any supplements.
In my first 10 years of autism care journey, I tried different ways to have my autistic twin sons take multivitamins, fish oil, enzymes and probiotics. They were either prescribed by doctors or agreed by them from respected brands.
I have to give the credit to those supplements that helped them grow physically strong since they were extremely picky eaters. I remember that around 4 weeks after they started taking fish oil, the look of their eyes became so much brighter.
Although supplements eased my mind in those years, it didn’t stop me pushing them to have a healthy and balanced diet. As they eat so many healthy foods now, they no longer use the supplements.
I hope you find this article helpful to understand the needs of supplements for people with autism. Please comment or share your experience about supplements for people with autism below. We appreciate your time.