A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Spring, 2018 | Number 2, Volume 32

Multi-pronged nutritional intervention leads to improved IQ, developmental skills in ASD

A long-term, multifaceted nutritional intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may lead to significant improvements in IQ, ASD symptoms, and developmental skills, according to a new study. 

James Adams and colleagues enrolled 67 children and adults with ASD in a one-year randomized, controlled, single-blind study. Half of the individuals participated in the nutritional intervention, while the other half served as controls. Fifty non-sibling neurotypical children and adults served as a second control group. Participants in the treatment group followed a multi-stage protocol: 

• Initially, participants received vitamin and mineral supplements. 

• On day 30, essential fatty acid supplements were added. 

• On day 60, Epsom salt baths were added. • On day 90, carnitine supplements were added. 

• On day 180, digestive enzymes were added. 

• On day 210, participants also began eating a healthy, gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet. 

Of the 37 families involved in the treatment group, 28 completed the study. The researchers report, “There was a significant improvement in nonverbal intellectual ability in the treatment group compared to the nontreatment group based on a blinded clinical assessment.” Nonverbal IQ rose by 6.7 points in the treatment group, compared to a slight drop in IQ for the controls with ASD. 

Semi-blinded assessments showed that developmental age increased by 18 months in the treated group, compared to four months for the controls with ASD. Symptoms of autism also improved more in the group receiving treatment than in the control group, as did gastrointestinal symptoms. Adams and colleagues report that three children in particular experienced exceptional results: 

—A nine-year-old girl initially had very little strength or energy and was unable to get into the family van, climb stairs, or get off the floor by herself. In addition, she needed to use a wheelchair for outings. Following the intervention, her energy increased, she no longer needed the wheelchair, and she began skipping. In this case, improvement appeared to be due to carnitine supplementation.

—A 27-year-old man suffered from severe urinary retention and needed daily catheterization. Four days after the introduction of the healthy GFCF diet, he was able to urinate on his own. His difficulty in urinating returned any time he ate dairy and disappeared when he went back on the diet. 

—A seven-year-old boy had severe pica. Within one week of starting the healthy GFCF diet, his pica disappeared. 

The researchers say, “The three case studies suggest that nutritional deficiencies and/or food intolerances can have significant effects, and the comprehensive nutritional/dietary treatment protocol is a safe and effective way to identify and treat some intractable problems.” 

Levels of homocysteine decreased in the treatment group, resulting in normal levels. Levels of some vitamins, but not all, also improved. Individuals in the treatment group experienced few adverse effects during the intervention. 

The researchers say that while other studies have investigated the effects of individual nutritional interventions, this study demonstrates that combining these interventions is feasible and safe. They also note that there was no significant correlation of benefits with age, saying that “children and adults of all ages are likely to benefit from this combination treatment.” Thus, they conclude, “We believe that the treatments used here should be considered for use in clinical practice for most children and adults with ASD.” 

Editor’s note: This study was funded in part by the Autism Research Institute.


“Comprehensive nutritional and dietary intervention for autism spectrum disorder—a randomized, controlled 12-month trial,” James B. Adams, Tapan Audhya, Elizabeth Geis, Eva Gehn, Valeria Fimbres, Elena L. Pollard, Jessica Mitchell, Julie Ingram, Robert Hellmers, Dana Laake, Julie S. Matthews, Kefeng Li, Jane C. Naviaux, Robert K. Naviaux, Rebecca L. Adams, Devon M. Coleman, and David W. Quig,  Nutrients, Vol. 10, No. 3, March 7, 2018 (open access online). Address: James B. Adams, [email protected].