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Hot Topics: Benefits of Autism Diets and Supplements Questionable

Jackie Werner Developmental Disorders, Hot Topics in Research

Nutritional and Dietary Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review

Sathe N, Andrews JC, McPheeters ML, Warren ZE. Nutritional and dietary interventions for autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review. Pediatrics. 2017. doi: 10.1542/peds.2017-0346

CONTEXT: Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) frequently use special diets or receive nutritional supplements to treat ASD symptoms.

OBJECTIVES: Our objective was to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of dietary interventions or nutritional supplements in ASD.

DATA SOURCES: Databases, including Medline and PsycINFO.

STUDY SELECTION: Two investigators independently screened studies against predetermined criteria.

DATA EXTRACTION: One investigator extracted data with review by a second investigator. Investigators independently assessed the risk of bias and strength of evidence (SOE) (ie, confidence in the estimate of effects).

RESULTS: Nineteen randomized controlled trials (RCTs), 4 with a low risk of bias, evaluated supplements or variations of the gluten/casein-free diet and other dietary approaches. Populations, interventions, and outcomes varied. Ω-3 supplementation did not affect challenging behaviors and was associated with minimal harms (low SOE). Two RCTs of different digestive enzymes reported mixed effects on symptom severity (insufficient SOE). Studies of other supplements (methyl B12, levocarnitine) reported some improvements in symptom severity (insufficient SOE). Studies evaluating gluten/casein-free diets reported some parent-rated improvements in communication and challenging behaviors; however, data were inadequate to make conclusions about the body of evidence (insufficient SOE). Studies of gluten- or casein-containing challenge foods reported no effects on behavior or gastrointestinal symptoms with challenge foods (insufficient SOE); 1 RCT reported no effects of camel’s milk on ASD severity (insufficient SOE). Harms were disparate.

LIMITATIONS: Studies were small and short-term, and there were few fully categorized populations or concomitant interventions.

CONCLUSIONS: There is little evidence to support the use of nutritional supplements or dietary therapies for children with ASD.