Autism researchers present findings on complementary medicine use and nutrition

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) presented six abstracts on research into autism and its most effective treatments at the 10th annual International Meeting for Autism Research which took place in San Diego in the week of May 13th 2011.

The topics range from complementary medicine-use rates to nutritional insufficiencies in children who have the neurodevelopmental disorder. Dr Susan Hyman, chief of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioural Paediatrics at URMC’s Golisano Children’s Hospital stressed how important it is to find out whether traditional or non-traditional treatments may be helping or harming, and how environmental factors influence autism. The abstracts presented at the meeting reflect UMRC data and analyses of the Autism Treatment Network database of more than 3,000 children and youth across the US and Canada.

Autism and nutrition
Two-thirds of children with autism are taking supplements – twice the rate in the general paediatric population – because of the food related behaviours and aversions that children with autism have. However the supplements do not provide adequate levels of some nutrients such as fibre, choline, vitamin K and potassium, and conversely there were several nutrients that exceeded recommended levels. Excessive consumption of some nutrients can have side-effects that families and carers need to be aware of. Too much niacin can cause flushing, gastrointestinal distress and liver damage. Too much vitamin A can have teratological effects (birth defects and other abnormalities of development), liver toxicity, reduced bone mineral density resulting in osteoporosis and central nervous system disorders. Diet and supplement use can impact on the health of children with autism, and some nutritional problems can also impact on their behaviour, so it is important that dieticians and health care providers are aware of the potential nutritional insufficiencies.

Food dyes and sleep
The effects of food dyes on children with autism has hitherto fore not been studied, but Hyman and her colleagues ran a pilot test on 25 children with autism. The researchers determined food dye intake from a three-day food record and matched it with parent questionnaires regarding behaviour. They found no correlation between food dye consumption and repetitive or externalising behaviours, but yellow food dye did influence sleep disturbances.

Complementary treatments
Analysis of the national dataset collected by the ATN showed that about 450 of 2,500 children reported use of complementary therapies. About one-fifth were given a special diet at the time they entered the registry, but during the follow up year between 5 and 10% of families stopped using a special diet, whilst other families started special diets. Many people try special diets to see if the elimination of specific foods can help with development or improve behaviour. Hyman stressed the need to doctors and families to communicate any complementary therapies being tried, so that appropriate nutritional counselling can take place.


Source: University of Rochester Medical Center


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