Autism Patients Treated with Alternative Diets, Probiotics
A significant number of young people who have autism are following special, alternative diets and taking supplements such as probiotics and digestive enzymes as part of their treatment programs, according to a new study. The report is being presented on Sunday, May 2 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting by the Autism Speaks’ Autism Treatment Network.
Autism is part of a group of disorders called autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) that include autism (the most debilitating condition), Asperger syndrome, and pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of autism among 8-year-olds is about 1 in 110. Autism and other ASDs typically develop in childhood and are usually diagnosed by age three.
The Autism Speaks’ study found evaluated data from a large registry of children with ASDs and their use of complementary alternative medicine as part of their treatment regimen. They found that 201 of 1,212 children (17%) were on special diets, primarily a gluten-free, casein-free diet (53%). Children with autism were more likely to be on a special diet (19%), followed by those with PDD-NOS (14%) and Asperger’s syndrome (7%).
The researchers also discovered that children who had gastrointestinal problems, which is a common complication of autism, were more likely than those who did not GI problems to use alternative approaches, including glut-free and casein-free diets, use of digestive enzymes and probiotics, and diets free of processed sugars.
A new study published in Nutritional Neuroscience reported on a 24-month randomized, controlled trial that looked at 72 children (ages 4 years to 10 years 11 months) who had ASDs. The children were assigned to either a gluten- and casein-free diet or to no special diet. At the end of the study, the “results suggest that dietary intervention may positively affect developmental outcome for some children diagnosed with ASD.”
In a previous article published in the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, a review of studies of dietary intervention for autism found that patients, parents, and caregivers are increasingly trying this approach, and that some benefits have been reported.
The CDC estimates that if 4 million children are born in the United States each year, approximately 36,500 children eventually will be diagnosed with an ASD. A growing number of them will try alternative diets and supplements such as probiotics. Daniel Coury, MD, medical director of the Autism Treatment Network and professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at The Ohio State University noted that doctors who treat children who have ASDs should know if their patients are trying alternative treatments “in order to help families monitor their child’s response to treatment, as well as to assure the safety of these treatments in concert with the physician’s prescribed treatments.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Pediatric Academic Societies
Srinivasan P. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry 2009 Oct-Dec; 21(4): 237-47
Whiteley P et al. Nutritional Neuroscience 2010 Apr; 13(2): 87-100