Food and Behaviour Research

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Effect of a vitamin/mineral supplement on children and adults with autism

Adams JB, Audhya T, McDonough-Means S, Rubin RA, Quig D, Geis E, Gehn E, Loresto M, Mitchell J, Atwood S, Barnhouse S, Lee W. (2011) BMC Pediatr.  11 111. doi: 10.1186/1471-2431-11-111. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here. Free full text of this article is available online.

Abstract:

BACKGROUND:

Vitamin/mineral supplements are among the most commonly used treatments for autism, but the research on their use for treating autism has been limited.

METHOD:

This study is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled three month vitamin/mineral treatment study. The study involved 141 children and adults with autism, and pre and post symptoms of autism were assessed. None of the participants had taken a vitamin/mineral supplement in the two months prior to the start of the study. For a subset of the participants (53 children ages 5-16) pre and post measurements of nutritional and metabolic status were also conducted.

RESULTS:

The vitamin/mineral supplement was generally well-tolerated, and individually titrated to optimum benefit. Levels of many vitamins, minerals, and biomarkers improved/increased showing good compliance and absorption. Statistically significant improvements in metabolic status were many including: total sulfate (+17%, p = 0.001), S-adenosylmethionine (SAM; +6%, p = 0.003), reduced glutathione (+17%, p = 0.0008), ratio of oxidized glutathione to reduced glutathione (GSSG:GSH; -27%, p = 0.002), nitrotyrosine (-29%, p = 0.004), ATP (+25%, p = 0.000001), NADH (+28%, p = 0.0002), and NADPH (+30%, p = 0.001). Most of these metabolic biomarkers improved to normal or near-normal levels.

The supplement group had significantly greater improvements than the placebo group on the Parental Global Impressions-Revised (PGI-R, Average Change, p = 0.008), and on the subscores for Hyperactivity (p = 0.003), Tantrumming (p = 0.009), Overall (p = 0.02), and Receptive Language (p = 0.03). For the other three assessment tools the difference between treatment group and placebo group was not statistically significant.Regression analysis revealed that the degree of improvement on the Average Change of the PGI-R was strongly associated with several biomarkers (adj. R2 = 0.61, p < 0.0005) with the initial levels of biotin and vitamin K being the most significant (p < 0.05); both biotin and vitamin K are made by beneficial intestinal flora.

CONCLUSIONS:

Oral vitamin/mineral supplementation is beneficial in improving the nutritional and metabolic status of children with autism, including improvements in methylation, glutathione, oxidative stress, sulfation, ATP, NADH, and NADPH. The supplement group had significantly greater improvements than did the placebo group on the PGI-R Average Change.

This suggests that a vitamin/mineral supplement is a reasonable adjunct therapy to consider for most children and adults with autism.

TRIAL REGISTRATION:

Clinical Trial Registration Number: NCT01225198

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

The findings from this controlled clinical trial show benefits for aspects of both nutritional status and clinical symptoms in 141 children and adults with autism.

While 'autism' is not a unitary condition (i.e. the causes are many, varied and differ between individuals), it is frequently accompanied by difficulties in following a nutritionally adequate diet.  While in theory at least, many people could obtain all the nutrients they need from 'a healthy, well-balanced diet', this is particularly difficult for many of those on the autistic spectrum. 

The authors' conclusion that vitamin / mineral supplementation is a 'reasonable adjunct therapy' for people with autism therefore seems eminently sensible - and results from this trial provide good supporting evidence for it.

Any such supplementation should only be done, however, in full consultation with suitably qualified medical and health practitioners. 

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