Diet and Vitamins
As described above in the section on Cause of Autism, some theories of how autism is caused link the onset and maintenance of the illness to food allergies or sensitivities. Correspondingly, some families choose to treat their children with autism's symptoms with a combination of diet and vitamin and mineral supplementation. Three popular diet and vitamin interventions for autism that are frequently recommended are: 1) the casein and gluten-Free diet, 2) vitamins B-12, A, D and C supplements, and 3) cod liver oil.
It should be kept in mind that no one really knows what causes autism at this point in time. Any theories linking diet and autism should be considered to have the status of informed speculation at best. There is no solid, replicated scientific evidence available at this time definitively linking autism to dietary problems.
- Casein and Gluten-Free Diet. Casein and gluten are proteins found in dairy, and oat, wheat, rye and barley products, respectively. The theory behind the casein and gluten-free approach contends that autistic people do not have the ability to digest these proteins, which hang around in the body and activate neurotransmitter receptors in the brain in the same manner as opiate drugs. Eliminating foods containing casein and gluten from autistic people's diets is believed to reduce or eliminate this possible cause of autism.
The casein and gluten-free diet is very restrictive and extremely challenging to follow. No bread or dairy products of any kind are allowed, and that is just the beginning. These proteins are found in thousands of foods; Even a trace exposure is supposed to severely affect sensitive patients. Children under the age of five are put on the diet for three months and are monitored to see whether any improvements occur. Children older than five are put on the diet for six months. There is no solid clinical evidence that the casein and gluten-free diet significantly improves the symptoms of autism.
- Vitamins and Supplementation. Another approach to treating the symptoms of autism involves vitamin supplements. The most commonly used vitamin is the B complex which helps the brain create enzymes that aid in its functioning. Vitamin B-12 maintains the nervous system and many have reported that the vitamin B supplements resulted in improved eye contact, attention and behavior for some autistic people.
Vitamin C is also thought to help brain functioning. Some reports have found that supplementation with vitamin C improves symptoms of autism. Apparently, children involved in vitamin C studies showed improvement in behavior, eye contact and communication attempts.
Cod liver oils contain high levels of vitamins A and D. These vitamins have also been reported to improve eye contact and behavior in some autistic cases. Fish oils have also been connected to improved brain functioning in clinical studies.