One of the first things you might hear about regarding nutrition tools for autism, besides special diets like GF CF or SCD, is vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Why is it one of the most studied treatments for autism? Here’s what you should know.
– B6 is a vitamin – which means, we need to eat it. We can’t make our own supply. It has various metabolic forms that our body uses, including pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P), another popular supplement. Among its many jobs is supporting production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin – both of which have shown altered status in persons with autism.
– There is a long pedigree for B6’s success in treating seizures; about a third of persons with autism have seizure disorders. Deficiency of this vitamin can cause seizures or other neurological symptoms.
– There is also a long pedigree for using vitamin B6 therapeutically for psychiatric disorders, like schizophrenia, along with other nutrients.
– B6 is a water soluble vitamin, which means the body doesn’t store it. Whatever is not used is excreted in urine, usually within hours. If you’ve ever noticed bright yellow urine after taking a multivitamin with extra B6 in it, you are likely seeing some of this in your toilet!
– Bernard Rimland PhD, founder of the Autism Society of America and the Autism Research Institute, pioneered the use of B vitamins in the 1960s for his own son, who was affected by autism.
– B6 has low toxicity, with a good track record of being safe to use. High doses are usually well tolerated, with any side effects resolving once it is stopped.
So should your child supplement it? Will it help autism features? As always, the best strategy is to ask an experienced and licensed health care provider to help you assess your child’s total nutrition needs. B vitamins work en suite – together – with other nutrients and with food to support brain chemistry, extract energy from food, and help nerve impulse transmission. Giving just B6 alone in a high dose – without other B vitamins, magnesium, or adequate diet – may fail to produce any results. That said, it’s one of the safest nutrients to supplement. Here’s the scoop on B6 and autism:
– Children with autism may well need higher doses of vitamin B6 than healthy typical peers, for many reasons: Picky diets that lack vitamins, gut inflammation that impedes absorption of B vitamins, or gut microbial infections that eat up B vitamins before your child can absorb them. Mitochondrial disorders (inherited or acquired) can trigger higher need for B’s too, as can an inability (inherited or acquired) to convert B6 to its active form in cells. One study noted that indeed, children with autism had high levels of B6 but low levels of its metabolically active form P5P. This would mean that dozens of enzyme actions needed to balance neurotransmitters in the brain would not function to potential.
– A number of studies testing high dose B6 have showed benefits. In a survey of 7256 parents, 49% reported symptoms of autism improved in their children with B6 and magnesium supplement.
Where to start? Begin with a high purity, high potency multivitamin and mineral supplement for your child. Reputable brands are Kirkman Labs, ProThera, Pure Encapsulations, and many others. You can browse products I choose in my practice, in the NutritionCare.net virtual dispensary (use access code MyNCFC and PW 80303 – my office zip code – to set up your own account and start browsing.)
1) Decide on the format your child can accept: Liquid, powder, capsules, or chewables.
2) Choose a product that provides the entire B group of vitamins (B1, B2, B6, niacin, folic acid or folacin, B12 as a blend of methyl and cyanocobalamin, pantothenic acid, biotin) at potencies of at least 100% of daily recommended value. Make sure that this product also contains magnesium to at least 100 mg; more may be preferable. Some multi’s add P5P, such as Kirkman’s Spectrum Complete and Klaire Labs VitaSpectrum.
3) Let your child trial this multivitamin and mineral daily for 2 weeks, withdrawing if you note reactions or side effects.
4) Once it’s clear that your child is tolerating this well, consider adding a product that adds more P5P and magnesium, such as P5P with Magnesium from Klaire Labs or Kirkman Labs.
5) Give the additional P5P early in the day with the multi, not toward evening, as B vitamins are usually energizing and may keep kids awake if taken too late. A reasonable starting dose is 5 mg P5P for a 30 pound child; older children may benefit from 25mg P5P, which is well above usual intakes from food or ordinary supplements, but possibly beneficial for those with metabolic disorders that prevent conversion of B6 to P5P in the body.
6) Continue if you note benefits. Reported benefits include improved communication, less stereotypical behavior, less sound sensitivity, improved expressive language, improved attention, and less hyperactivity.
Caveat: Some children become hyper and agitated when given very high doses of P5P. Start low and go slow; withdraw if you see worsening hyperactivity. Your child may do fine on a lower dose, or may benefit from B6 more after treating bowel infections for yeast and other microbes (which also use B vitamins).
B6 is a promising, easy-to-test option for any child on the autism spectrum. Get input from parents who have succeeded and from your child’s health care team. If your child is using medications, it’s especially important to check with your doctor and pharmacist about drug-nutrient interactions.
When parents hear “nutrition matters for baby” or “kids need a good breakfast”, what does that really mean? There are plenty of vague platitudes out there filling parenting web and print media, cereal box side panels, and TV ads. But how important is this, really?
Even before pregnancy, what we moms eat and what toxins we are exposed to affect our unborn children. Whole foods organically grown in healthy toxin free soil without genetically modified seeds or feed grains will safely nourish you and your kids – and it really does matter. For example:
– Vitamin D status before and during pregnancy may affect growth of the fetus, length of pregnancy, and immune function for baby after birth. Babies may be at more for risk intrauterine growth retardation in moms who are vitamin D deficient. Even adult outcomes for mental illnesses may be impacted by mom’s vitamin D status during pregnancy.
– Ideal iron status – not too much, or too little – is crucial for normal fetal development. Iron can cause lasting damage to fetal organs and brain tissue, if the wrong amount is on board.
– Toxic exposures for you now may influence whether your grandchildren get cancer.
– Ultrasounds may damage DNA expression in your baby’s brain. Limiting exposure to these while pregnant may be safest.
– Missing folic acid, a single simple nutrient, can have catastrophic outcomes for baby. Taking it before you conceive may prevent birth defects.
– Unvaccinated babies have fewer allergies, ADHD, and chronic disease than vaccinated children. Toxins in vaccines along with early and aggressive exposure to injected antigens may be making our children more chronically ill. This bolsters the need for strong nutrition to support strong immune response. Even vaccinations taken by mom prior to pregnancy may have a negative impact too.
– Breastfeeding is as or even more powerful than vaccination at preventing infectious diseases – so powerful in fact, that the CDC has promoted cessation of breastfeeding to keep natural antibodies from negating those in vaccines! Score another point here for nutrition solutions over pharmaceutical ones.
– Genetically modified organisms in food crops (GMO) are linked to increased allergies and organ damage. These foods are unlabeled in the US – so that means you’re probably feeding them to your family. Look for foods that tell you they contain no GMO ingredients. Livestock and farm raised salmon are typically fed GMO corn. Splurge on organic meats to avoid this when you can.
These are just a few bullets from the staggering amount of information on nutrigenomics – that is, how nutrients (and toxins) impact gene expression and outcomes for our babies. But one fact is too often overlooked for parents nowadays: Nutrition really matters, and it’s up to us to engage it. Your child’s immune system depends on a steady flow of toxin-free nutrients and foods, and a well functioning digestive tract, in order to mount a vigorous response to fight infection. Your child’s brain needs the same, to grow and function to potential. Nutrition is an ensemble piece if there ever was one. Nutrients and foods work together, relying on each other in cells and processes in the body, to create a hale and hearty human. No pharmaceuticals – vaccines included – do these jobs. Food and nutrients do this.
Despite this old wisdom – documented by decades of nutrition science and practice – pediatrics today pays little due to helping parents build kids’ nutrition. Nutrition studies are not part of your pediatrician’s training. Emphasis is heavy on pharmaceuticals, a shift that has happened in the last generation. As a child, I visited the pediatrician very rarely; I have not a single memory of me or any of my four siblings going to the doctor with an illness. We each passed through the rites of chickenpox, mumps, and measles; we never got ear infections; we very rarely got colds or flu. My friends came from families of three, five, or even six or seven children. I knew no one with asthma, allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, or other conditions or disabilities. With all the pharmaceuticals now given to children beginning from birth, we must ask if these are making kids less well, and more debilitated. Over half of US children now have a chronic disease or disability – obviously, using more pharmaceuticals has not improved health for our children.
Pay as much attention as you can to real food for your family. Cooking from scratch is a lot of work, but start – somewhere. Even a few more whole food meals or snacks a week will give your kids fewer toxins, more minerals, varied protein, and essential fats and oils – all key for brain and immune function. Even busy families can begin with these ideas:
– Trade processed fortified breakfast cereals (infamous for delivering too much corn syrup, sugar, additives, or even too much iron for some children) for whole grain oatmeal, eggs, or additive-free organic breakfast meats
– If cereal is non-negotiable, transition to organic brands that use whole grains. Add raw nuts and seeds like cashew, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds.
– Once a week, try a session with your kids of making your own cereal. Use whole oats, nuts, seeds, cinnamon, honey – any granola recipe can do.
– Trade sugary GMO concoctions like Ensure, Pediasure, or Carnation Instant Breakfast for power shakes made from organic almond, hemp, or coconut milk; add whey powder, nut butters like tahini, honey, and ripe banana. Let your kids experiment with ingredients, within your parameters of fruits, seeds, nut butters, cacao nibs.
– Stuck on Cheezits and Goldfish crackers? Rotate in crunchy nut and seed mixes, Justin’s Nut Butters, raw young asparagus, or crisp bell peppers. Add dips like guacamole or hummus. If all else fails, offer nut butters and dips rich in brain building fats with the crunchy cracker favorites.
– Is Friday pizza night? Give your own homemade a try, and let your kids in on the project. If making your own dough is daunting, purchase an empty pizza round from your grocer’s freezer section and build from there. Use organic cheeses. Experiment with toppings like olives, fresh basil leaves, raw tomato slices, scallion, or barbeque chicken; let your kids spice the pie with fresh minced oregano, raw minced garlic, or fresh hot pepper.
– Use a crock pot once a week for a home cooked meal. Meatballs and sauce, meatless minestrone, pot roast and vegetables, and lentil dahl are just a few meals that cook themselves and offer protein, minerals, fats, and oils.
What I usually hear in my nutrition practice is this: The more families get into preparing real food, the more they get into it. It grows on you. And the best part is seeing your children become healthier and happier, from the inside out.