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Autism

Fish Oil Diet for Autistic Children

12/15/2006

Question:

Can I give Omega3+6 containing Suppliments to My Son of 11 Year age who is Autistic.

If Yes, can you name One such Brand available in India, specifically Delhi

Also what should be quantity (Daily+ for How much duration)

Answer:

Although some research has been done on use of long-chain polyunsaturated essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) in mood disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),  I do not know of a placebo-controlled study in autism.

Because many children with autism also have ADHD symptoms, you will be interested in that body of research, in which 2 trials with omega-6 (primrose oil, gamma-linolenic acid, GLA) and 2 with omega-3 (docosahexaenoic acid, DHA) alone showed equivocal to nil results, and 3 with a combination of GLA, DHA, and eiosapentaenoic acid (EPA) showed promise:  a modest to moderate response.  This is still an experimental treatment for ADHD, but looks promising for the combination capsules.

Results in mood disorders are also uncertain, with some studies showing benefit and others not.

There are several practical considerations:

1. The best way to get EPA and DHA is to eat fatty wild ocean fish (not farm-raised or freshwater) 2-3 times a week, unless the water in the region is contaminated with heavy metals.

2. Some experts consider EPA the critical EFA for brain function.

3. In moderation, fish oil or the combination capsules are probably safe (may cause fishy odor or mild diarrhea at first).

4. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are not likely to be completely curative of anything other than frank EFA deficiency.

5. Children with autism often have very idiosyncratic restricted diets that are likely to be deficient in several nutrients. 

A recent report by Lindsay et al (2006) found that although the average dietary intake of children with autism is sufficient because some eat one thing excessively to make up for those not eating enough in the group averages, individuals have deficient intakes of specific nutrients.  E.g., half had deficient intake of Ca (anothers excessive intake), a third vitamin K, another substantial number folic acid. 

Therefore individual dietary habits should be evaluated and a specific supplementation plan formulated.  A daily multivitamin-mineral pill seems advisable in the absence of a balanced diet.

6. There is likely to be a large placebo effect in an open trial of any novel treatment.

7. If EFA supplementation (or any other unproven intervention) is tried, it is important to make careful notes about baseline status to which the results later can be compared.  A rating scale before starting and every few weeks after would be good.

8.  Brand is not important; it's the specific content that is.  Look for a substantial amount of EPA, some DHA, and maybe GLA.

Something like 1-4 capsules a day of Omegabrite or Efalex would be reasonable.  If more than one used, split the dose into two different times.

For more information:

Go to the Autism health topic, where you can:

Response by:

L Eugene Arnold, MD, MEd L Eugene Arnold, MD, MEd
Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University