Vitamin and mineral deficiencies have been found to be common among those with autism. Normal growth and good health depend upon the body to absorb and metabolize the vitamins and minerals that are part of a well-rounded diet. Many studies have identified several examples of nutrient deficiencies affecting thinking and behavior – for example, nutrient deficiencies involving omega 3 fatty acids may worsen behavioral symptoms such as irritability and hyperactivity. An impaired intestinal lining will cause deficiencies in the digestion of certain foods, which greatly affects vitamin/mineral intake. The GI tract processes vitamins and minerals from your food to make enzymes and manage metabolism. Those enzymes are needed for every other biochemical process in your body. As an example, 80% of your neurotransmitters are created in your intestines. Many have found that a multi-vitamin, as well as the supplementation of certain vitamins/minerals have improved symptoms that their autistic children were experiencing.
Vitamin A is needed for the functioning of the body’s mucous membranes. A deficiency can lead to diminished secretion of digestive juices creating digestive issues, or the drying out of the linings of the nose and throat. Most importantly, it affects the eyes, causing night blindness among other issues. It is believed that the alienated behavior of an autistic individual may be due to a damaged/under developed retina, which provides a tiny visual window where they only see colors and vague shapes. This makes it very hard for them to follow movement, especially the subtleties of facial expressions. New environments are also visually challenging, hence their desperate need for routine. A deficiency in vitamin A often leads to visual stimming, such as staring at lights/fans, repetitive blinking, rolling the eyes, or moving/flapping fingers in front of the eyes. Vitamin A supplementation with cod liver oil has proven effective in reducing these behaviors and repairing the retina. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning that it gets stored in the body. Supplementing too much can have side effects, so one should be tested to determine levels.
Vitamin A is best supplemented through Fermented Cod Liver Oil.
B-vitamins are EXTREMELY important. Let me start by saying that the intake of Alcohol, Caffeine, Sugar and tobacco destroy B-vitamins. B-vitamins break down food, make red blood cells, maintain the digestive tract, synthesize DNA, boost the immune system and create neurotransmitters. B6 and B12 are particularly important for brain function. Supplementing these often show amazing improvements in autistic behaviors. In addition B6 and B9 are important for immune system function, creating the body’s chief antioxidant, Glutathione. Below is a list of symptoms as a result of deficiencies of these vitamins.
B1 – sensitivity of the teeth/cheeks/gums, chapped lips, poor coordination and short term memory issues.
B2 – light sensitivity, dry/chapped lips, peeling skin at base of fingernails
B3 – diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, aggression
B5 – acne
B6 – skin disorders, neuropathy, confusion, poor coordination, insomnia, OCD, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and PMS.
B7 – impaired growth and neurological disorders in infants
B9 (folate) – elevated homocysteine, birth defects, anemia, poor growth
B12 – anemia, elevated homocysteine, neuropathy, memory loss, cognitive deficits, mania and psychosis.
B-vitamins are water soluable meaning that they do not typically build up in the body, thus you need a continuous source of B-vitamins to keep appropriate levels. B vitamins are found in whole, unprocessed foods, particularly concentrated in meat such as turkey, tuna and liver. They are also found in whole grains, potatoes, bananas, beans, nutritional yeast and molasses.
Vitamin C and D
We still have a lot to learn about the roles that Vitamin C and D play in the body. Vitamin C is heavily concentrated in the brain and every brain cell has vitamin D receptors. Both are known to boost the immune system and act as anti-oxidants, but they do much more than we originally thought. Vitamin C elevates mood, reduces stress and distress, and reduces anxiety. It also increases the body’s ability to transport blood through our microvascular system, which is extremely important in the brain, where oxygen and nutrients are supplied through some of the body’s smallest blood vessels.
Vitamin D is responsible for enhancing intestinal absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc. While Vitamin D is known to be important for bone health, recent research has shown that it also activates the brain hormones serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin, which affect social behaviors related to autism. Vitamin D is derived from the sun, thus deficiency is common in those who do not get enough sunlight. It is also derived from animal sources like fish, egg yolk, cheese and liver.
Vitamin C is derived from fruit and veggies. Vitamin C is water soluable, meaning that it does not get stored in the body. One must continuously replenish their vitamin C, whereas Vitamin D is fat soluable and gets stored in the body. The only time that there is a risk of vitamin D3 toxicity is when there is a deficiency of vitamin K2, which is why it is wise to supplement D3 and K2 together.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient found in foods like vegetable oils, avocados, spinach, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, nuts, and whole grains. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in the body, protecting cell membranes from damage caused by free radicals. It also prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Vitamin E actually encompasses a group of eight compounds, 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols, that comprise the vitamin complex as it is found in nature. Most supplemental forms of Vitamin E do not contain all 8 compounds. It has not been determined which of the 8 compounds has the highest antioxidant activity, so it is best to get it in natural form or find a supplement with the most options.
Vitamin E is necessary for the maintenance of skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle. It assists in the formation of red blood cells and helps to maintain stores of vitamins A, K, iron, and selenium. As an antioxidant, it appears to have a positive effect on immune health, protect against the oxidative damage that can lead to heart disease, and have preventive effects against cancer. It has been shown to relieve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and may help prevent some diabetes-related damage, particularly to the eyes.
Vitamin E also seems to be necessary for proper neurological function, as seen here and here. In addition, it has been shown to improve speech, imitation, eye contact and behavior in autistic children with apraxia, specifically in conjunction with Omega-3 supplementation. In this study, families used 800IU of Vitamin E and Omega 3 in the following ranges: 280-840 DHA, 695-2085 EPA
Vitamin E is best absorbed when takin with a meal. Toxicity is very rare and typically results in nausea, gastric distress, diarrhea, headache, and fatigue. Vitamin E does work as an anticoagulant, so may interfere with the body’s ability to clot blood when in very high consumption. It does pose a risk to people already taking prescribed blood thinners and can interfere with cholesterol drugs, chemotherapy drugs or mineral oil. High doses of vitamin E may also increase the body’s requirement for Vitamin K.
Zinc is an essential mineral that plays an important role in immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and cell growth/repair. Zinc is also required for proper sense of taste and smell. Zinc is present in the brain and is known to influence the way that nerve cells communicate with each other. Nearly 50% of autistic children have been found to be zinc deficient. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include taste abnormalities, mouth sensitivity, loss of appetite, hair loss, sleep disturbance, diarrhea, PMS, and compromised immune function. Zinc is derived from animal sources like oysters, beef, pork and chicken. People at risk for zinc deficiency are those with digestive disorders, vegetarians and alcoholics (ethanol decreases its absorption). In addition, phytates bind to zinc and inhibit its absorption. Foods high in phytates include whole wheat, corn, oats, brown rice, soy, beans and potatoes. One should have their zinc levels checked prior to supplementation, as zinc toxicity can occur with high intake.
Magnesium is essential to all living cells. It builds/strengthens bones, relaxes muscles, transmits nerve signals, contributes to a healthy immune system, produces enzymes responsible for energy, and regulates blood pressure. Deficiency in children with ADD, ADHD and autism is fairly common. Behaviors from low magnesium levels include restlessness, body rocking, grinding teeth, noise sensitivity, poor attention span, poor concentration, irritability, anxiety and aggression. Physiological symptoms include muscle cramping/twitching, headaches/migraines, chronic fatigue, asthma, diabetes and PMS. Magnesium is a natural self-cleanser, working with the body’s detoxification process and protects cells from heavy metals like aluminum, mercury, and lead. Epsom salt is made up of magnesium and used during baths for detoxification and relaxation purposes. It is also commonly used as a laxative. Magnesium absorption is dependent on intestinal health. Levels are decreased by alcohol, coffee, phosphoric acid in soda, and antibiotics. Magnesium can be found in nuts, rye, tofu, buckwheat, collard greens, shrimp, avocado, beans, and garlic.
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty acids, which are found in fish oils, are important for numerous body functions. Essential fatty acids are needed for proper growth, particularly for neural development and maturation of sensory systems, with male children having higher needs than females. Children with autism and ADHD have been found to have deficiencies in these items, which are also called DHA, EPA and GLA. DHA is essential for growth and neural development. DHA and EPA help with the regulation of inflammation. DHA and GLA support the development of the digestive tract, brain, nerves, immune, respiratory and cardiovascular system. Supplementation results in improved cognitive, social, language and behavioral development. Essential fatty acid deficiency is common in North America. The best source of omega 3 and omega 6 essential fats is through pharmaceutical supplements. It is best to make an informed choice before purchasing fish oil supplements as one must verify purity of the product to avoid contaminants like mercury and dioxins often found in fish.