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).
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).
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.
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.
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.