There are a number a reason to be concerned about possible nutritional deficiencies in autism and its related disorders. These include higher needs for certain nutrients and lower intake. Here we discuss why we need to consider the nutritional status of children on the spectrum.

Selective Eaters.

Children with autism often have self-imposed restricted diets that could lead to nutrient deficiencies. Taking a look at your child’s intake of foods over a three day period and noting how many novel foods they consume will give you an idea of whether your child’s diet is restricted. Consider if they choosing to eat foods with similar nutritional profiles. It is not uncommon for children with autism to choose ‘beige’ foods or to have their entire diet made up of bread, pasta and milk/cheese. Or maybe chicken nuggets and potato waffles are as adventurous as their diet gets.

We know that there are underlying reasons that cause children choose to be selective in their food intake. Reasons range from digestive discomfort to sensory issues. We need to identify whether your child’s diet is leaving them open to developing nutritional deficiencies.

Digestive dysfunction.

We also need to consider that a large number of children with autism also have some degree of digestive dysfunction. It is known that children with autism are more likely to attend hospital emergency departments with constipation. Loose stools are also not uncommon, along with reflux and digestive enzyme deficiency. Some studies suggest the the severity of gastro-intestinal symptoms correlates with the severity of autism. Although, it has been suggested that the gastro-symptoms are a consequence of fussy eating quite often the GI issues pre-date the onset of fussy eating and they can also be seen in children with autism that don’t exhibit selective eating.

If digestive dysfunction is present we need to recognise that this can affect nutrient absorption. Even if the dietary range is wide there may still be a issues with nutrient deficiencies.

Signs of digestive dysfunction include a history of colic/reflux, diarrhoea, bloating, burping, loose bowel movements, urgent need to defecate, constipation, stomach aches, food intolerances, history of antacid use and unformed stools.

We need to be open to the idea that some behaviours that are considered part of ‘autism’ may be a consequence of GI discomfort. These include irritability, self-harm, sleep disorders and aggression. Digestive dysfunction can be linked directly to behaviour by the inability to breakdown amino acids that are the building blocks for neurotransmitters. Anxiety which manifests itself as requiring sameness, rigidity and OCD-like tendencies can be linked to low neurotransmitter levels.


Additional medical needs.

Many children on the spectrum have other medical issues that can impact on nutrient need. These can include allergies, enzyme deficiencies and food intolerances. An immune system in ‘overdrive’ due to hay fever, dust allergies, etc. will require more nutrients to function effectively than one without those additional stresses.
Mitochondrial dysfunction and higher levels of oxidative stress, that can be identified through an Organic Acid Test, are also more common in children with autism. Higher levels of nutrients are required in these circumstances too.
High levels of anxiety, living each day in flight or flight mode can also be demanding of nutrients. Vitamin C and B vitamins are important nutrients for supporting the body’s stress response. In periods of stress or anxiety our need for these nutrients increases.

Contact us.

If you would like to book a consultation with our Birmingham-based Nutritionist, get in touch! We also hold clinics in Hale, Cheshire each month.