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Special diets and supplements

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have a child with autism. It tells you about special diets and supplements used for autism. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

We don't know. Several types of diets and supplements have been suggested as treatments for autism. But there hasn't been enough good research to tell us whether they work.

You should always talk to your doctor or a dietitian before changing what your child eats or giving your child supplements.

What are they?

A diet is just a special way of eating. It can mean eating less food. Or it can mean staying away from certain kinds of foods.

Supplements are extra vitamins, minerals, and other substances that you take in addition to the food you eat. They come as tablets, capsules, powders, or liquids.

Here are the special diets and supplements for children with autism that we looked at.

Diets that don't have any gluten or casein

Gluten is a protein found in wheat. Casein is a protein found in milk. Children on a gluten-free and casein-free diet don't eat these foods. This means no normal bread, pasta, or other foods with wheat in them, and no milk, yoghurt, cheese, or other dairy products.

Fish oil

Oily fish and substances taken from fish liver (such as cod liver) have lots of a chemical called omega 3. Your body can't make this for itself. It must get it from the food you eat. Supplements of fish oil usually come as capsules or as a liquid you take from a spoon.

Vitamin A

You need vitamin A to grow and to keep your skin, bones, and eyes healthy. Good natural sources of vitamin A include fish, meat (especially liver), eggs, and vegetables that are yellow or orange. Supplements of vitamin A usually come as tablets or capsules.

Vitamin B6 plus magnesium

Vitamin B6 is also called pyridoxine. It is one of several B vitamins. Your body needs these to turn carbohydrates (starchy foods) you eat into a sugar called glucose. Glucose is the main fuel for your muscles and brain. Magnesium is a mineral. You need tiny amounts. Dark leafy vegetables are a good source. Supplements of vitamin B6 and magnesium usually come as tablets or capsules.

Vitamin C

You need vitamin C to grow and to help your body make repairs when it has to. It is found naturally in fruits and vegetables. Supplements of vitamin C usually come as tablets or capsules.


These are often called 'friendly bacteria'. They are similar to the harmless bacteria that live naturally in your gut. They may help your immune system by keeping out harmful bacteria that can cause disease. You can buy yoghurts and fermented milk drinks that contain probiotics, or you can take these as capsules and tablets.

Digestive enzymes
Last Updated: August 29, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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