Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that typically starts showing symptoms at a very early age, causing social interaction deficits, communication impairments, and behavioral challenges. The spectrum disorders vary from one child to another and generally trigger several symptoms like:
- Repetitive behavior
- Social and communication deficits
- Sleep problems and eating and feeding problems
ASD is a prevalent disorder today and is diagnosed in 1 out of 44 children in the US, according to CDC. Various studies have proven that there`s a lack of certain micronutrients in children with ASD, which include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Folic acid
Almost 70% of autistic children suffer from eating and gastrointestinal problems like constipation
- Bloody stools
- Gastroesophageal reflux
Environmental and situational stress also adds to gastrointestinal problems, which include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Increased intestinal permeability
- Altered bacterial flora
Children with autism, unlike their peers with normal development, can have unique nutritional challenges. This article is all about giving you an extensive overview of the nutritional deficiencies that are common among autistic children and its cause.
Causes of nutritional deficiencies in autistic children
ASD children that suffer from gut issues can have real adverse effects from starchy foods. Let’s look at the leading cause of dietary deficiencies in autistic children.
Gut health issues
Children with autism have a highly immune disfunction due to mitochondrial dysfunction and methylation disorder, which leads to the pro-inflammatory condition.
People in this state also suffer from gut health issues. Inadequate gut efficiency leads to limited nutrient absorption and reduced nutrient utilization.
Sensory processing disorder
Another chief reason that exacerbates nutritional deficiency in these children is sensory processing disorder. A child with sensitivities like tastes smells, and textures will have a specific or limited diet to eat.
This can lead to severe vitamin deficiencies that are otherwise present in proper veggies, nuts, fruits, and meat.
Types of deficiencies in autistic children
Food selectivity is a commonly known issue with autistic children. Children incline more toward eating fast, starchy, or processed foods instead of veggies, fruits, and proteins. This doesn’t only promote obesity in the children but also vital vitamin deficiencies leading to gastrointestinal issues.
As a parent of a child on the spectrum, ensure that your child`s diet is based on healthy food and fewer cheat meals or fast processed foods. Your child could still suffer from deficiencies, which can be helped by adding supplements to the diet. In case your child is allergic to some foods or doesn’t like the taste, ask your nutritionist to help you find a replacement for those foods.
Here`s a list of common nutritional deficiencies that your autistic child is susceptible of:
Vitamin D and Calcium
A chronic inflammatory state is a severe nutrient deficit state that requires many nutrients. This is why children with autism have severe vitamin D and calcium deficiencies even though they have optimal exposure to the sun.
A long-term calcium and vitamin D deficiency can lead to:
- Dental changes
- Brain alteration
- Loss of bone density
Incorporating calcium and vitamin D supplements into daily regimes can help replenish this deficiency. Vitamin D and calcium supplements can also improve irritability and hyperactivity.
Some autistic kids also have a cerebral folic deficiency, an auto-immune disorder. This auto-immune disorder affects intellectual disability, head growth, loss of voluntary movement, speech difficulties, and seizures.
Children suffering from this deficiency disorder make antibodies that prevent folate from penetrating the blood-brain barrier.
Giving your children an oral treatment with leucovorin calcium has been found to be best to mitigate symptoms and stabilize the level of 5MTHF in the cerebrospinal fluid. A milk-free diet along with leucovorin calcium greatly reduces the symptoms, especially in the early stage of life.
Methylated B vitamins
Methylated B vitamins include B12, folate, B6, and B1, which are the economy of metabolism, and their deficiency can lead to metabolic inefficiency.
Vitamin B deficiency can cause
- Slower developmental growth
- Skin rashes
Maintaining a balanced neutral diet and adding vitamin B multivitamins to your child`s diet can lower its chances of deficit and help avoid related problems.
Gastrointestinal issues can lead to less absorption of zinc and increased endogenous zinc losses from the gastrointestinal tract or kidneys.
Zinc deficiency is also very common among autistic children and can cause:
- Impaired immune functions
- Decreased body`s ability to heal wounds
- Acute diarrhea
- Cold susceptibility
- Macular degeneration
Using fortified foods and dietary supplements can help control the side effects. For instance, Oysters, baked beans, chickpeas, cashews, almonds, red meat, and poultry are excellent sources of zinc. Also, food and beverages with high concentrations of sugars, saturated fats, and sodium should be avoided.
Magnesium is another essential component for metabolic pathways in the body, and its deficiency can lead to:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fatigue and weakness
- Pins and needles
- Muscle spasms
- Abnormal heart rhythms
For autistic children, magnesium deficiency can be contained by giving magnesium supplements to your child. A balanced diet with magnesium-rich foods like veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains can also keep magnesium levels at optimal.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are found mainly in fish and not other foods, so it is essential to add omega 3 supplements to your child`s diet to support neurological health.
Omega 3 deficiency can cause:
- Skin and hair problems like dryness and dandruff
- Fatigue and trouble sleeping
- Fairly decreased concentration and attentiveness
- Leg cramps
- Allergy symptoms
- Difficulty in menstrual cycles
- Excessive ear wax
Rich Omega-3 foods to make part of your child`s diet:
- Flax, hemp
- Chia seeds
- Eggs oysters
It also helps with skin and hair problems, long-term memory, attention span, and focus. These supplements take time to show results since omega-3 fatty acids take a while to alter the fatty acid content of the cell membrane.
ASD, aside from communication, social and behavioral issues, also causes gastrointestinal problems. Studies have found evident brain-to-gut relation among children with an autism spectrum disorder.
Neural dysfunction in ASD can cause downstream problems in the GI tract; for instance, numerous psychiatric illnesses like depression and anxiety are directly linked to GI disorders. With proper nutritional therapies, diet, and supplement intake, you can minimize the risk of vitamin deficiencies.