Nutritional Deficiencies Commonly Associated with Neurocognitive Conditions and ASD

As a mom of two kids with ASD, I found this article sent in from a reader really fascinating. I hope you do too.

What is ASD?

ASD stands for “Autism Spectrum Disorder,” and describes a set of neurocognitive conditions that may appear within the first three years of life. While an exact cause of the disorder is yet unknown, early indications may manifest in infants. Symptoms such as a delay in talking or reduction of speech, disinterest in social interactions, an aversion to physical touch, or a difficulty with eye contact may be indicative of ASD. For more information and help regarding raising a person with ASD or any other neurocognitive conditions, My Spectrum Heroes contains all of the most up-to-date information and tools to help you be a successful caregiver [1].

Potential Reasons for Nutrient Deficiencies

A child with ASD may possess a nutrient deficiency for a variety of reasons, and it is important to consult with a professional RD (“registered dietician”) and the physician to best formulate a plan tailored to your situation. These deficiencies may exacerbate or worsen conditions already associated with ASD, so seeking treatment or supplements might be necessary for relief.

Children with ASD will often have habits and aversions that may make it difficult or altogether prevent proper nutrient consumption, with some studies citing that “children with ASD are five times more likely to have mealtime challenges such as tantrums, extreme food selectivity, and ritualistic eating behaviors.” Other studies estimate that “46% to 89% of patients with ASD” will experience problematic eating disorders or behaviors [2][3][4].

These problems may be a result of multiple behavioral conditions, such as:

Limited Food Preference
Many children with ASD refuse to eat a variety of foods, sometimes as drastic as entire food groups. Oftentimes this manifests in a preference for starchy, calorically-dense foods and an aversion to fruits and vegetables

Sensory Processing Issues
Some children find it difficult to eat in areas with many sounds. Problems with specific food colors or shapes may also hinder proper consumption 

Sensitivity to Texture
Certain textures of food, such as crisp or chewy foods, produce problems in some children with ASD

Other factors may be at play in affecting a person’s nutrient intake. Highly-refined foods and foods that contain many additives can also heighten problems experienced by individuals with ASD. Some sources advise only “natural, whole foods,” as these could potentially be important in reducing problematic eating behaviors [2].

Some things to stay away from for sensitive individuals:

Artificial Coloring in Food
Ingesting these may worsen hyperactivity, respiratory disorders, and preexisting gastrointestinal problems

Artificial Flavorings
Some popular flavoring additives have been linked to headaches, muscle tightness, and weakness in certain individuals

Refined Sugars (High-fructose)
Studies have revealed these to contain trace amounts of mercury, which individuals with ASD may have a difficult time removing from their system. This can potentially lead to dangerous levels accumulating in an individual’s body

Artificial Sweeteners
These sweeteners, like the kinds found in diet sodas, may cause a variety of digestive issues in sensitive individuals

Artificial Preservatives
These have been seen to cause headaches, hyperactivity, or unnatural/intensified behavioral or mood changes [2][4]

Impact of Nutrient Deficiencies in Young Individuals

Nutrient and Vitamin deficiencies can affect all aspects of one’s life and body. Vitamin D and Calcium deficiencies -- both very common in individuals with ASD -- may lead to maldevelopment and fragility of the bones. Vitamin B deficiency may also affect the central nervous system’s development. And vitamin C deficiency may reduce the body’s ability to heal wounds. Individuals with ASD may also be at greater risk of obesity, as their carb-rich and nutrient-deficient diets cause the body to gain weight more quickly. All of these are factors that threaten the prospects of a safe and healthy childhood [4].

Supplements and Remedies

Certain supplements and multivitamins may prove to reduce problems related to problematic eating habits and nutrient intake. Not all of the nutrient concerns are inherently linked to ASD, but in many instances, the enhanced sensitivity of individuals with ASD may lead to enhanced symptoms and concerns. Apart from the supplements listed below, dietary changes may also prove beneficial for some individuals. Make sure you consult professionals before making any extreme dietary alterations.

Supplements and vitamins that you may consider adding to your child’s diet:

General, high-quality multivitamins may help compensate for nutrient deficiencies in limited diets. Specifically, calcium and protein deficiencies are common in individuals with ASD. Be sure to choose a natural vitamin without artificial colors and additives to reduce any risk of discomfort and gastrointestinal problems

Vitamin D
Multiple studies have proposed a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and ASD in young children, as the vitamin may help to prevent the DNA mutations and damage that can lead to ASD development. Vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women may also lead to an increased risk of ASD development in the child

Omega-3 fatty acids have the general effect of benefiting natural brain development in most individuals. These benefits might be multiplied in individuals with ASD, claims multiple studies, as many of those individuals show “imbalances in the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids” in their bloodstreams. Omega-3s may also reduce hyperactivity and lengthen attention spans [2]


Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal

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