Special Diets, Supplements for Autism Not Backed by Solid Evidence

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Several studies have explored the benefits of different kinds of foods and nutrients for autism.
Several studies have explored the benefits of different kinds of foods and nutrients for autism.

HealthDay News -- There is no solid evidence that any diet changes or supplements to ease symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) work, according to research published in Pediatrics.

The new review findings were based on 19 clinical trials. The studies were small, including anywhere from 12 to 92 children, and they typically lasted less than 6 months. Several studies looked at whether omega-3 fatty acids made a difference in children's language abilities, behavior, or social skills.

The researchers found no clear evidence to support the use of nutritional supplements or dietary therapies for children with ASD. In a couple of trials, children given a placebo showed bigger improvements than those on omega-3 supplements. Some other trials tested supplements such as digestive enzymes and methyl B-12 with mixed results. One study, for example, found that digestive enzymes seemed to improve children's digestive symptoms and behavioral issues, while another found no benefit. Several studies examined gluten-free/casein-free diets. Results were mixed, with the studies finding benefit being less rigorously done, the researchers said.

A second study in the same journal issue examined effectiveness and safety of interventions targeting sensory challenges in ASD. The team found some modest short-term improvements in sensory- and ASD symptom severity-related outcomes, although "the evidence base is small, and the durability of the effects is unclear."


Sathe N, Andrews JC, McPheeters ML, Warren ZE. Nutritional and dietary interventions for autism spectrum disorder: a systematic review [published online May 26. 2017]. Pediatrics. doi:10.1542/peds.2017-0346

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