What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. Children and adults with autism are unable to relate to others in a meaningful way. Their ability to develop friendships is impaired as is their capacity to understand other people’s feelings. People with autism can often have accompanying learning disabilities but everyone with the condition shares a difficulty in making sense of the world. There is also a condition called Asperger syndrome which is a form of autism used to describe people at the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum. Reality to an autistic person is a confusing, interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds and sights. There seems to be no clear boundaries, order or meaning to anything. A large part of my life is spent just trying to work out the pattern behind everything.

What causes autism?

The exact cause or causes of autism is/are still not known but research shows that genetic factors are important. It is also evident from research that autism is associated with a variety of conditions affecting brain development which occur before, during, or very soon after birth.

Diet

Since the 1960s, when interest in the effects of diet and vitamins on the treatment of autism began, there has been much research carried out in this area, although not necessarily into all diets and vitamins which could be of use. As with all approaches to treating autism it is important to remember that some will work with varying degrees of success in one person, while not have any effect at all for another. It is also important to stress that while experimenting with vitamins and supplements is unlikely to result in any serious side-effects, consultation with your doctor on any change of diet is advisable. There are several organisations that can help with a decision to use vitamins or diets in treating autism and Aspergers syndrome and it would be useful to consult these.

Vitamin B6/magnesium, who could benefit?

Since the 1960s when Bernard Rimland initiated research into the use of vitamin B6 alongside magnesium a high proportion of people on the autistic spectrum have benefited from taking more vitamin B6. It is important however, to recognise that only those on the autistic spectrum with a need for Vitamin B6 in particular will benefit from this treatment. How successful has this diet proved? Have any studies been carried out? There have been around 20 published studies since 1965 and vitamin B6 has proved beneficial to around 50% of those involved. It is not fully understood why vitamin B6 is useful in this way. If the treatment is going to be useful then it should have an effect within a few days but if there is no change in three to four weeks it should be stopped.

Is this treatment safe?

Thousands of autistic children have been administered vitamin B6 since the 1960s without any signs of significant side-effects. However, in 1983, Schaumburg reported a small number of patients as suffering from numbness and tingling in the hands and feet due to peripheral neuropathy. It should be noted that these children were not taking magnesium which should always be used when taking such high doses of vitamin B6 so as to prevent side-effects due to vitaminotherapy such as irritability, sound sensitivity, and enuresis. Also, once the vitamin treatment was discontinued or markedly reduced, all adverse symptoms disappeared completely.


Vitamin C, who could benefit?

Vitamin C helps us all by enabling our brains to function properly although how it does this is still unknown. The symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include depression and confusion, both of which are symptoms common in autistic people. Therefore, the idea is that autistic people would in some cases benefit from vitamin C supplements.

How successful has this diet proved? Have any studies been carried out? Most people know that vitamin C is capable of fighting viruses and bacteria, but these are not its only benefits. Two studies into the effects of vitamin C supplements in autistic children are of particular interest. The first ever test was carried out in 1967 by Dr Bernard Rimland, where B3, B5, B6, and C were administered. In this test, the benefits of using vitamin C in autism were overshadowed by the apparent effectiveness of vitamin B6. However, the dosage for vitamin C was very low (1 to 3 grams per day) and therefore it would be wrong to draw conclusions from this test. The second study of vitamin C in autism was initiated by Dolske et al in 1993. The study involved a thirty week double-blind placebo-controlled trial of 52mg/lb per day in 18 autistic children. The much higher dosage produced more favourable results.

Is this treatment safe?

Vitamin C has been taken in quite high doses without any major side effects. However, it can have a laxative effect and if this should happen then it should stop being administered. As with all these treatments it is essential that a medical professional is consulted Megson has suggested that natural vitamin A may help people with autism, especially those with vision, sensory perception, language processing, and attention problems. Vitamin A can be found in cold water fish such as salmon, cod, liver, kidney, and milk fat. A useful supplement to take may be cod liver oil. At present, it is not possible to verify this completely, and so we suggest that her ideas be explored further through her website or by writing to her using the addresses below.


Mary N Megson, MD, FAAP
Developmental Paediatrician
7229 Forest Avenue
Suite 211
Richmond, VA 23226
Fax 0804 673 9195
Website: www.megson.com/

Serotonin

Serotonin is a neuro-transmitter which acts on the brain to influence motivation and mood. The observation that levels of 5-HT (serotonin) were sometimes raised in children with autism was first made in 1961 in a study by Schain and Freedman. Their research found that in approximately 30% children with autism, blood serotonin levels are significantly raised (a condition known as hyperserotonemia). This finding has been validated by many subsequent studies but the reasons for it and the ways in which it can be treated have yet to be identified. Further, the relationship between secretion of neuro-transmitters and mood is more subtle than had been previously supposed. Several drugs have been tried to redress this problem, none of which have been proved to be very successful although some have reported some improvement. After treatment with one of these drugs (fenfluramine) a group of autistic children showed no reduction in their symptoms of autism nor with any improvement in the intellectual or reasoning abilities. Although its capability to reduce levels of obsessional behaviour and in some cases social functioning was demonstrated. With regards to diets which may be able to improve the levels of serotonin in people on the autistic spectrum, there a re a number of foods that contain high levels. The most common foods are tomatoes, bananas, plums, pecan nuts (among others) and pineapples. Alternatively, if the level of serotonin need to be reduced then these foods could be avoided. Knivsberg (1990) reported that some parents found that autistic episodes increased when children ate certain foodstuffs (for example bananas) which lends support to the hyperserotonemia case. It is not clear what the effects of reducing serotonin in the diet would be but if parents wish to experiment with this then we recommend that a dietician or nutritionalist is consulted to ensure that a balanced diet is maintained.

Useful Addresses/Contacts
Allergy-Induced Autism
8 Hollie Lucas Road
King’s Heath
Birmingham
B13 0QL
Chief Executive: Rosemary Kessick 01733 331771
Hon. Secretary: Meryl Nee 0121 444 6450

Information Courtesy of
The National Autistic Society
393 City Road
London EC1V 1NG
Telephone: 020 7833 2299
Fax: 020 7833 9666
Email: nas@nas.org.uk

For Further information visit the website:
The National Autistic Society

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