It seems that the less that is scientifically certain about a nutritional supplement, the more Internet pages are devoted to convincing surfers about its value to your health.
On the other hand, certain food additives hang on because they appear to have merit. Fish oil, for example, has been a mainstay. In addition to health benefits for heart disease, depression and dementia, improvements have been documented in behavior, ADHD, communication and cognitive function – many of the core symptoms of ASD.
The Basics: (for our purposes)
The brain is rich in fats. They are membrane-stabilizing, anti-oxidizing, electricity-enhancing, chemical-carrying, and account for most of the weight of our CNS.
A healthy metabolism requires dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). One designation (Omega 3-6-9) describes the organic composition. Another important classification describes the size of the molecule (α lipoid acid-> EPA-> DHA).
There is evidence of differences in the PUFAs of people with ASD. The inference is that function can be normalized with dietary intervention by re-establishing typical levels and ratios.
Various mixtures derived from the ocean (cod, salmon, krill) and/or plants (flax, corn, nuts) are available. Claims about better stability, quality, purity, ingredients, absorption and disease-specific value are variously offered.
Particularly as regards a condition as multifactorial and enigmatic as ASD, this situation has resulted in a myriad of possible correct, useless, or even harmful choices.
WebMD lists a variety of adverse reactions, the most pertinent to the ASD population being:
•G-I symptoms including burping, discomfort and loose stools
•Bleeding, including nosebleeds
•PUFAs affect the immune system
•Heavy metal contamination
•Allergy to the source
•Exaggerating mental disorders
•Lowers blood pressure (many patients take bp lowering meds for sleep and anxiety).
Scientific papers reporting various dosages and formulations have demonstrated cautious safety, even in research that does not support assertions of improvement.
There is more than one study that refutes any positive effects, particularly in ADHD and ASD. There are few reports of gains in speech and language. Even the evidence offered by a popular vitamin company lacks specific supporting documentation.
Many children with ASD are on restricted diets or they are finicky eaters who could use the extra nutrition, anyway. Furthermore, there is a growing body of anecdotal reports and stories of improvement from various omega products.
There is theoretical and documented evidence that supports the proposition that this relatively safe and inexpensive nutritional supplement improves CNS functioning.
Since we have limited ability to produce them, PUFAs are a dietary requirement. They are Essential Fatty Acids in various combinations, with confusing nomenclature. That situation often leads to marketing opportunities.
Little is certain regarding how this group of supplements affects patients with ASD. Users mostly rely on producer advertising for information and assurances about the “best” product.
In order to assess whether “it’s working,” caretakers should pay particular attention to gains in the most documented behavioral components, such as ADHD and aggression. Being aware of safe dosing and negative effects is valuable, as well.
Perhaps not producing as noticeable an improvement as other biomedical interventions, a high-quality oil that the child can tolerate (taste, smell), at the label-recommended dose, is a reasonable nutritional supplement for ASD.