As National Autism Awareness Month draws to a close, we take another look at a disorder faced by a growing number of children. Autism is essentially a neural development issue characterized by impaired communication and social interaction─as well as often repetitive behavior. This condition appears to affect information processing in the brain by altering the way nerve cells and synapses interact.
Given the increased number of autism cases in recent years, many doctors simply prescribe anti-depressants. The problem is, these drugs merely address symptoms without treating the real problem. In fact, research suggests that common anti-depressants like serotonin receptor inhibitors (SRIs), have been over rated in terms of treating autism.
An article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics(1) confirms that the usefulness of SRIs in treating autism has been over estimated, noting that the studies that did indicate positive results showed only minor improvements. Should autistic children be taking potentially addictive drugs with little or no proven benefit to their condition?
Better yet, why not explore safe, natural alternatives that are proven to be effective in treating autism, while helping to combat depression as well? You might even have them in your cupboard right now: omega-3 essential fatty acids.
One study evaluating omega-3s to treat hyperactivity in autistic children found that these healthy fats helped reduce hyperactivity with no side effects,(2)while another showed a definite advantage of omega-3s compared with a placebo for hyperactivity and stereotypy (repetitive movements).(3) Yet another research team found that 8 out of 9 subjects taking omega-3s showed a 33% improvement on the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist, with zero side effects.(4)
So, how does omega-3 supplementation help? Well, research suggests that autism─as well as disorders like dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)─are a related group of neurodevelopmental disorders that stem from an inability to properly metabolize omega-3s.(5)(6)
Apparently, many autistic patients have trouble converting these important fats into the forms needed for certain biochemical reactions.(7) Insufficient levels of omega-3s clearly appear to be a primary issue with autism. Each of these studies exploring the link between omega-3 deficiencies or imbalances and autism conclude that omega-3 supplementation is a healthy, effective treatment for this debilitating problem.
While omega-3s can be found in various foods, fish oil capsules are the most efficient way to obtain a daily supply of critically important EPA and DHA fatty acids, which require no conversion in the body. Just make sure your fish oil is pharmaceutical grade and has undergone stringent molecular distillation to ensure it is free of heavy metals, PCBs, and other toxins.
The evidence seems pretty clear. If you have an autistic child, daily fish oil supplementation can help. Healthy brains, happy kids!
2 J Autism Dev Disord. 2011 May;41(5):545-54.
3 Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Feb 15;61(4):551-3. Epub 2006 Aug 22.
4 J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2009 Aug;19(4):449-51.
5 Reprod.Nutr.Dev. 45(1):1-28.
6 Prostaglandins Leukot.Essent.Fatty Acids 63(1-2):1-9.
7 Current Psychiatry Reviews 2(2):215-234.