Special Diets, Dietary Supplements and Autism


Special diets are diets which have been modified in some way to bring about specific healthcare benefits. Dietary supplements (also called nutritional supplements) are substances which are intended to correct nutritional deficiencies.

Some people think that some autistic people have a range of nutritional and metabolic problems. These include low levels of nutrients, high levels of oxidative stress (a chemical state within cells that can increase cellular damage) and difficulties with metabolic processes (such as digestion). 

Some people think that these nutritional and metabolic differences may be the cause of some of the core features of autism (such as impaired communication and social difficulties) and related issues (such as challenging behaviours).
They also think that some of these problems can be overcome by following a special diet, taking one or more dietary supplements and /or using detoxification techniques such as chelation.       

Special Diets

Special diets are diets which have been modified in some way to bring about specific healthcare benefits.

Most special diets used to help autistic people are ‘exclusion’ diets. This means you avoid or reduce foodstuffs which may harm you (such as additives in the additive-free diet). Other examples of special diets are the gluten-free, casein-free diet, and the salicylate-free diet.

In some diets you have to exclude some foodstuffs but include others, such as the specific carbohydrate diet. This excludes complex carbohydrates (such as those found in rice and potatoes) and replaces them with simple carbohydrates (such as those found in bananas and squashes).

In practice, many diets share similar characteristics. For example, the Feingold diet is a mixture of the additive-free diet and the salicylate-free diet, while the specific carbohydrate diet incorporates elements of the gluten-free diet. 
Some people think that diet is a key component of any intervention designed to help autistic people.

More information

Please see Special Diets

Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements (also called nutritional supplements) are substances which are intended to correct nutritional deficiencies.

Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbals and botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and many other products. They come in a variety of forms including tablets, capsules, and powders, as well as drinks and energy bars.

There are numerous different types of supplements including amino acids, botanicals, cofactors, digestive enzymes, essential fatty acids, minerals, prebiotics probiotics and vitamins.

More information

Please see Dietary Supplements


Eating a healthy and varied diet is important for good health.

Food and drinks provide a range of nutrients and all vitamins and essential minerals are just that – essential for good health. If too little of any of these nutrients is consumed, nutrient deficiencies can occur, which cause ill health. Consuming too much of any of these nutrients can also cause poor health. It is unusual to consume too much via foods, however taking dietary supplements with high levels of nutrients does carry a risk of nutrient overload.

Some diseases (such as cystic fibrosis), some conditions (such as cerebral palsy) and other factors (such as breast-feeding) increase an individual’s needs for some nutrients 

Some evidence shows that some autistic people may have nutritional and metabolic problems. However, the number of individuals on the autism spectrum who have these problems is not clear. It is also not clear whether these problems or differences are any more common in autistic people than in other individuals. Possibly, these problems cause or worsen symptoms (of autism or related issues). Or maybe they arise because of autism, or they could be completely unrelated to autism. Nobody knows.

Most special diets and dietary supplements provide the same benefits for autistic people as they do to people who are not autistic. Some dietary supplements may make some problems worse for some autistic children and young people. 

Risks and safety

Many special diets and dietary supplements contain active ingredients that can have strong effects in the body, so those pose risks.

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15 Feb 2019