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The Benefits of Natural Therapy for Autism

written by: Terrie Schultz • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 10/11/2010

Although autism has no cure, there are some natural treatments that appear promising to alleviate symptoms. Read on to find out about different types of natural therapy for autism.

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    VItamins and Nutritional Therapy for Autism

    Natural therapy for autism has garnished a lot of attention in recent years. This is, in part, because a number of vitamins and other nutritional supplements have been shown to have a positive effect on individuals with autism. Here is a brief rundown of several options for natural therapies:

    Vitamins and Minerals- Some individuals with autism spectrum disorder have vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to intestinal disorders that prevent adequate absorption of nutrients. According to the Autism Society, a combination of vitamin B12 and magnesium alleviated symptoms in nearly 50% of autistic individuals who were studied, with improved behavior, attention span, eye contact and learning. Vitamin C and cod liver oil, which is high in vitamins A and D, also lessened the severity of symptoms in autistic children.

    Essential Fatty Acids- Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are vitally important for brain development in children. They cannot be made by the body, and must be obtained through foods. There are two main groups of essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6. The relative amounts of these two types of EFAs are critical. If the amount of omega-6 is too high in relation to the amount of omega-3, it may result in problems with behavior, mood or cognitive ability. An article published in Alternative Medicine Review reports that many autistic children have an omega-3 deficiency, and treatment with EFAs resulted in improved behavior. Omega-3 can be added to the diet by taking supplements or eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as olive oil, walnuts, and various types of fish including salmon, halibut, cod, sardines, herrings and mackerel.

    Dimethylglycine (DMG)- This is a form of the amino acid glycine that is found in certain foods, such as liver, beans and grains, and is also available as a supplement. DMG is an antioxidant, and also increases oxygenation of cells. It is believed to benefit autism sufferers by increasing the amount of oxygen in the brain. Autistic children who were given DMG showed improvements in many areas, including behavior, eye contact, speech, and frustration tolerance.

    Melatonin- Sleep disorders are common symptoms of autism in children, and often persist into adulthood. These may include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or other sleep disturbances. Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced by the brain, and acts to regulate sleeping and waking cycles. Children with autism often have lower than normal levels of melatonin in their bloodstreams. Taking melatonin supplements has been found to alleviate sleep problems.

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    Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Autism

    Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a natural therapy for autism that has not yet had extensive clinical testing, but preliminary results indicate that it may help to improve symptoms of autism. A possible contributing factor or cause of autism symptoms is lack of oxygen in the brain. Hyperbolic oxygen therapy involves placing the patient in a pressurized chamber that forces oxygen into the tissues and blood vessels. It increases blood flow to the brain, decreases inflammation and swelling, and results in increased brain activity.

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    Disclaimer

    This information is for educational purposes only. Some types of natural therapy for autism are controversial and lack clinical scientific evidence to support their effectiveness. Blood tests to assess vitamin and mineral levels should be given to determine what doses of supplements are appropriate. Consult your doctor before using any of these alternative therapies.

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    Sources

    http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69204.cfm

    http://autism.healingthresholds.com/therapy/essential-fatty-acids-efa

    http://www.hbotreatment.com/Autism.htm

    http://www.autism-society.org/site/PageServer?pagename=life_treat_vitamins

    http://www.healing-arts.org/children/nutritional.htm#Dimethylglycine%20%28DMG%29

    Kidd, Parris M. Omega-3 DHA and EPA for Cognition, Behavior, and Mood: Clinical Findings and Structural-Functional Synergies with Cell Membrane Phospholipids. Alternative Medicine Review, Volume 12, Number 3, 2007.