News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Q & A: I read online that kids with autism need B vitamins, fish oil, and calcium. Can I start with those basic supplements and see where we get before seeing a doctor or nutritionist?

JCCHD | Mon, October 01, 2012 | [Autism Treatment][Healthcare][Q and A ]


We know nutrient imbalances, whether levels are deficient or excessive, can cause health problems. Although nutritional supplements can promote good health in those with developmental delays, it is always best to work with a practitioner who is knowledgeable about proper dosing and drug interactions.  Just because supplements are over-the-counter and considered by many to be “all natural” does not mean they can be taken safely, particularly in this sensitive population, without proper supervision.  Just like prescription medications, supplements can have powerful side effects, but when used appropriately they may be able to improve certain health conditions. 

Children affected by autism often have special dietary and nutritional needs that require an individualized treatment plan. Even though many present with the same or similar symptoms, appropriate treatment for each one might be very different. Through the use of a dietary analysis, the baseline of a child’s nutrient intake can be estimated, possibly showing nutrients that are either lacking or being consumed excessively based on recommended daily allowances.  Additionally, certain lab tests can reveal nutrient deficiencies that occur even while taking supplements. With the proper data, supplementation can be monitored and changed based on each person’s individual needs. Taking supplements without this information can be a waste of money because one may not take the right dose of a specific nutrient.  Even more common is the use of a particular supplement without the others that are required to maximize its effectiveness. leading families to wrongly conclude that the child had no response or a negative response.  However, when the same supplement is properly prescribed, the child often experiences a marked change for the better.  (Do remember that dietary supplements are designed to improve daily intake of nutrients, and the vitamins and minerals added are not intended to correct a poor diet.)

Another issue of concern is that medications can interact badly with any form of vitamins, minerals, supplements, herbs, and botanicals. For this reason, you must make each of your child’s health care providers aware of which supplements and prescription drugs they are currently taking, or which you are thinking of taking. Although generally safer than prescription medicines, supplements can have negative side effects and be toxic in excess.

Also remember that not all supplements are created equally. For more information on this matter, please read “Q & A: Are all supplements the same? Does brand name matter?” which can be found here.

Instead of addressing symptoms by adding supplements that may help with certain behaviors, you should be focusing on the root cause.  Why is this symptom happening in the first place?  The Johnson Center focuses on determining and addressing the root causes of problem behaviors or concerns rather than trying to manage the symptoms alone. Through the use of dietetic analysis, laboratory analysis, and clinical judgment, nutritional support to improve health may be recommended as a part of the treatment plan for your child.