Supplements for autism

As a modern society, we have been conditioned to expect a quick fix.  That’s one of the main problems I have with pharmaceutical (and even supplement) advertising, is that it gives people hope and the false expectation that a little pill can cure all their ills.  Event hough it is advertised as such, I have never really seen any of the drugs work that way!

Many of us who are interested in natural medicine can all too easily get caught up in the ‘supplement trap’ of taking a full regimen of supplements with little, no, or even bad effects.  They look so promising lined up on the health food store shelves, at somewhere between $3 and $35/bottle, all the labels making promises and assurances that they too are the answer to our problems, plus they are all natural!

I’m going to share with you the supplements that we have taken and found effective in our family, and how I evaluate if a supplement works for my child with autism.

First, food as a supplement

My first priority is to eat a balanced whole foods diet, and avoid any foods that cause problems.  This means that we don’t skip eating vegetables and then take a vitamin C + fiber pill; we don’t skip eating grassfed meat and drink a protein shake; and we don’t eat processed food and then take a pill for indigestion.  For my daughter with autism, this also means that she stays on the GAPS diet, and really our whole family makes sure we’re on the GAPS diet if we are having any physical issues- we really thrive on this diet.  I feel that eating a good whole foods diet is the biggest and most important step. The book pictured above, Special Needs Kids Go Pharm Free, agrees with me on this point, which is one of the reasons why I like it so much!

Friendly reminder: If you need help sticking with the GAPS or SCD diets, that’s why I made Grain Free Meal Plans!

Second, Make a Plan

I like to know for sure if a supplement is working or not, so I only start one at a time and note changes for a full 30-day time period before introducing another supplement. I’m sure this goes against many protocols given by naturopathic physicians, but I really like to give the minimum amount of supplements to my children, so I want to make sure it’s actually doing something.  I read up on a supplement, find if there is one type that preforms higher than another, and then study the ingredient lists carefully. I usually like the NOW brand supplements, but even with those I have to watch ingredients carefully to make sure they aren’t adding in things that aren’t allowed on the GAPS/SCD diets.

Next I decide on a dose to start, and stick with it for a week and note any changes. After a week I’ll make any doseage adjustments that I think might be needed.  If I see no effect from a supplement after 30 days, I normally discontinue it unless I have a very good reason to keep going on it.

Third, Periodically do a Trial Off Supplements

Especially with my child with autism, I notice that as her body heals and nutrient deficiencies are corrected, she might not require as much of a supplement as she did before.  It’s good to try removing the supplements from the diet and see if they still are effective.

The goal is to correct imbalances and deficiencies, not to be dependent on supplements for health.

I also don’t tell people who work with my child when I’m changing supplements.  I wait to see if they notice something, and if they’ve remarked that she’s changed a few times, then I tell them what I’ve changed.  I think this helps me to evaluate whether something is really working or not.

Warning: All too often I will ‘try going off’ a supplement when the bottle runs out. Bad idea! If our bodies are really benefiting from a supplement, it’s really frustrating to have to wait for a new shipment to come in, or to have to pay double by purchasing at the health food store rather than online.

What We Use and Why

Our family uses more supplements than most, just because we’re dealing with autism.  The supplements in the picture up top are all ones that we’ve tried my daughter on, most of them she is not still on because we didn’t notice any improvement.  I’ll list what we’ve found successful.  I’m not a doctor, not qualified to give medical advice, and cannot recommend any supplements for your family, but based on our results you may want to look into what we’ve found helpful.

Links go to where I purchase our supplements. I choose where to purchase based on cost and quality.

  • L-Carnosine: For emotional regulation for autism. There actually are quite a few studies and articles on this supplement, even a placebo controlled trial. When we first started L-Carnosine I noticed a huge difference and she was taking 3 capsules a day. Now she’s down to one capsule in the morning, but it does help with emotional regulation.
  • B12- injections: This was prescribed by our naturopath.  I think that poor gut flora and gut health is preventing my daughter with ASD from metabolizing B12 correctly. We had tried the sublingual drops before injections and didn’t see any improvement.  When we first started B12 it seemed to cause her to detoxify quickly, so we only did it every few days. After a month she seemed to handle it better and we did every day to every other day, and now she seems to not require it as much and we’re down to once or twice a week. For us B12 has helped with attention deficit type problems- she now can sit still, attend to picture books, etc.
  • Carnitine: For my child with ASD and low tone. I don’t know much about this supplement, but it seems to be working; her OT remarked about how her balance had improved quite a few times during our last session.  The GAPS diet also helped her tone a noticeable amount.
  • Fermented Cod Liver Oil: For essential fatty acids, vitamins A and D.  I don’t compromise on quality with this, I would rather give less of a higher quality fish oil than more of a lower quality one.  We all take this- the kids and I take the liquid (salty cod) and my husband takes the capsules.
  • Good Quality Pr0biotics: I take biokult, and I have actually seen a die off reaction (I get red cheeks from the bad bugs dying and releasing toxins) when I started it. I had my daughter’s stool sample taken and it showed she was only missing one certain type of beneficial bacteria, so she takes lactobacillis from our naturopath’s pharmacy.
  • Digestive enzymes: For my daughter, also based on stool sample results, which showed lots of undigested fat.  She takes 1-2 of these with each meal, depending on fat content.  I am going to have a stool analysis taken in 6 months and see how she is doing with the supplements- this is one of the supplements that I give her even though I don’t see noticeable results.
  • GABA: This is also an amino acid, it helps us process stress. I’m the one who takes this- I tried giving it to my daughter and it didn’t seem to help her at all, so it must react differently in our bodies or else I’m deficient in it and she’s not. It seems to help with anxiety/stress/attention deficit symptoms. At first I took one twice a day, now I take them as needed for stress management- every couple days or so.
  • DLPA: I talked about how we used this to quit coffee a while back.  Ahem, both of us are drinking coffee again- it’s just so warm on these cold winter mornings!  But I’m going to stop again for next summer.  DLPA did allow me to quit it without headaches or feeling like I was in an I-need-coffee haze for weeks.
  • Elderberry Tea: I wrote about elderberry extract for immunity a while back as well.  Now I just use it and make a ‘tea’ by steeping the dried berries in hot water. I like the taste, sometimes I add mint.  For us, I find that if I am diligent about drinking the tea every day when we’ve been exposed to an illness, we either get over it in a day or two or we don’t get it at all.  Elderberry works better for me than echinacea ever did, and it tastes better too.
  • Dandelion Root Tea: For fat digestion and liver detoxification, I give this to my daughter when I can get her to take it. Usually mixed with quite a bit of honey in a sippy cup :)
  • Epsom salt baths for magnesium and sulfur: This helps with the detoxification as well, and the magnesium seems to guard against cramps for those who are prone to them.

When I lined up all the supplements we’ve taken for the picture, it sure looked like a lot! But all of these were added very slowly, and the ones that didn’t work were taken out of the rotation. I just hung on to the bottles in case we needed to try them again down the road.

More Special Needs Reading:

We have found success using these supplements, are there any that you find to be amazingly helpful in your family?