Herbs and supplements for ASD
While the exact causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are not fully understood, an emerging perspective is that it is triggered by an interaction of environmental insults (toxins, viruses and so on) in a genetically vulnerable body.
The aim of support with herbs and supplements is:
- first to balance or compensate for these vulnerabilities,
- and second to arrest the ongoing changes caused by the environmental insults.
- In addition, other problems that might that might be impacting on the overall health of the person can also be countered in a gentle way.
This is consistent with the overall aim to achieve the first stage of neuroplastic brain healing (restoring cellular health in the brain), as defined by the renowned and distinguished psychiatrist Dr Norman Doidge. When affected nerve cells in the brain are restored to cellular health, a great deal of the “noise” they emit is quietened, making the person’s nervous system less disrupted and more receptive to other treatments and to the next four stages of neuroplastic brain healing.
Specific issues with ASD identified by the scientific research that can be helped by herbs and supplements include:
- support of the immune system,[i]
- reducing allergies,[ii]
- enhancing detoxification,[iii]
- improving the health of gut bacteria,[iv]
- balancing hormonal function, adjusting diet, assisting sleep and mood,[v]
- and reducing brain inflammation (which is often behind a “noisy” brain).
One example of the beneficial use of supplements can be seen in recent clinical trials of broccoli sprouts in ASD. Broccoli sprouts are known to stimulate the clearance of toxins from the body, and a clinical trial conducted by doctors at the eminent Johns Hopkins University in the USA showed a substantial and significant improvement in young men with ASD.[vi] Parents made comments like: ‘‘R is now happier, has more control over his body, and overall is a positive child with a great attitude. He is more social and goes to concerts, movies, restaurants, vacations and family outings (all of which were not possible before the study).’’[vii]
In a clinical trial of children with ASD and language impairment, treatment with high-dose folinic acid (a form of vitamin B9) for 12 weeks resulted in improvement in measures of verbal communication, as compared with the placebo.[viii] In another clinical trial, results illustrated folic acid intervention (another form of vitamin B9) improved autism symptoms towards sociability, receptive language and communication.[ix]
A review of the evidence from clinical trials found vitamin D supplementation improved the typical symptoms of ASD, as indicated by reduced Social Responsiveness Scale and Child Autism Rating Scale scores, and concluded vitamin D was beneficial for children with ASD.[x]
Another review of natural treatments for ASD found 27 double-blind, randomised clinical trials, including 1028 patients with ASD: 542 in the intervention arms and 486 in the placebo arms. Supplementation (including omega-3 fish oil, vitamins and/or other supplementation) was more effective than placebo at improving several symptoms, functions and clinical domains.[xi]
[i] Marchezan J, Winkler Dos Santos EGA, Deckmann I, Riesgo RDS. Immunological Dysfunction in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Potential Target for Therapy. Neuroimmunomodulation. 2018; 25(5-6): 300-319. doi:10.1159/000492225
[ii] Billeci L, Tonacci A, Tartarisco G, Ruta L, Pioggia G, Gangemi S. Association Between Atopic Dermatitis and Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2015; 16(5): 371-388. doi:10.1007/s40257-015-0145-5
[iii] Wang M, Hossain F, Sulaiman R, Ren X. Exposure to Inorganic Arsenic and Lead and Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Chem Res Toxicol. 2019; 32(10): 1904-1919. doi:10.1021/acs.chemrestox.9b00134
[iv] Iglesias-Vázquez L, Van Ginkel Riba G, Arija V, Canals J. Composition of Gut Microbiota in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2020; 12(3): 792. Published 2020 Mar 17. doi:10.3390/nu12030792
[v] Posar A, Visconti P. Sleep Problems in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Pediatr Ann. 2020; 49(6): e278-e282. doi:10.3928/19382359-20200511-01
[vi] Singh K, Connors SL, Macklin EA, et al. Sulforaphane treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014; 111(43): 15550-15555. doi:10.1073/pnas.1416940111
[vii] Lynch R, Diggins EL, Connors SL, et al. Sulforaphane from Broccoli Reduces Symptoms of Autism: A Follow-up Case Series from a Randomized Double-blind Study. Glob Adv Health Med. 2017; 6: 2164957X17735826. Published 2017 Oct 26. doi:10.1177/2164957X17735826
[viii] Frye RE, Slattery J, Delhey L, et al. Folinic acid improves verbal communication in children with autism and language impairment: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Mol Psychiatry. 2018; 23(2): 247-256. doi:10.1038/mp.2016.168
[ix] Sun C, Zou M, Zhao D, Xia W, Wu L. Efficacy of Folic Acid Supplementation in Autistic Children Participating in Structured Teaching: An Open-Label Trial. Nutrients. 2016; 8(6): 337. Published 2016 Jun 7. doi:10.3390/nu8060337
[x] Song L, Luo X, Jiang Q, et al. Vitamin D Supplementation is Beneficial for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Meta-analysis. Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci. 2020; 18(2): 203-213. doi:10.9758/cpn.2020.18.2.20
[xi] Fraguas D, Díaz-Caneja CM, Pina-Camacho L, et al. Dietary Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2019; 144(5): e20183218. doi:10.1542/peds.2018-3218