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Special Diets, Supplements May Be Counterproductive in ASD

These interventions are often tied to either too little or too much of certain nutrients

MONDAY, June 8, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Special diets or supplements for children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can leave children still deficient in some nutrients, such as calcium, according to new research. On the other hand, special diets and supplements can cause children to take in excessive amounts of other nutrients, such as vitamin A. These findings were reported online June 4 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The new study involved 368 children aged 2 to 11 years who were treated at five different Autism Speaks specialty centers. The study participants had all been diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, or another pervasive developmental disorder. The children’s caregivers kept a three-day food diary, which recorded the amounts of food the children ate as well as the drinks and supplements they consumed.

After analyzing the children’s food diaries, the researchers found that the children with an ASD were consuming amounts of nutrients that were similar to other children who did not have autism. They also had the same deficiencies often seen in the general population. In addition, even among those who took supplements, up to 55 percent of the children with an ASD remained deficient in calcium, while up to 40 percent didn’t get enough vitamin D. The children on the gluten- and casein-free diet consumed more magnesium and vitamin E, but they were still deficient in calcium.

Much of these special diets and supplements are unnecessary, the authors said, because even children with picky eating habits still get most of their essential nutrients from the food they eat. That’s because many of today’s foods are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, the researchers explained. And, the study authors suggested, that could explain why some children with autism are getting too much of certain nutrients, such as vitamin A, folic acid, and zinc. “In clinical practice, each patient needs to be individually assessed for potential nutritional deficiencies or excess,” lead researcher Patricia Stewart, Ph.D., R.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, said in a journal news release.

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