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Omega-3, vitamin E mix shows potential for autistic speech

By Stephen Daniells , 19-Aug-2009
Last updated on 20-Aug-2009 at 12:57 GMT

A combination of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E may lead to speech improvements in autistic children with verbal disorders, suggests a new study.

Verbal apraxia is a speech disorder common in autism, and an estimated 50 per cent of children with autism have apraxia. Furthermore, many thousands more are reported to have apraxia but are not autistic.

According to new research published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, daily supplements of omega-3 and vitamin E were associated with improvements in speech, imitation, eye contact, and behaviour.

Claudia Morris from the Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland (CHRCO) and Marilyn Agin from the Saint Vincent Medical Center in New York recruited families with experiences of omega-3 fatty acid and vitamin E supplementation. The majority of families used doses of 800 IU of vitamin E, while the average omega-3 consumption was 280 to 840 mg DHA and 695 to 2,085mg EPA.

The ratios and dosages determined through the work with the study led to a patent for Dr Morris through the CHRCO (US patent # 2008/002216). The patented formulation is licensed exclusively to Illinois-based NourishLife from CHRCO.

Kate Bolton, VP of speech nutrients at NourishLife, told NutraIngredients: “The results of the study are significant in that 97 per cent of the participants with apraxia and/or on the autism spectrum reported dramatic improvements while taking a combination of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E.

“The study represents the largest summary of children with apraxia to date,” she added.

“Antidotal evidence had previously shown that omega-3 can help children with apraxia and those known as ‘late talkers’. The researchers discovered that they symptoms presented by children with apraxia mirror those of vitamin E deficiency,” said Bolton. “The addition of high dose vitamin E with omega-3 fatty acids is the breakthrough.”

Study details

The researchers recruited 187 children with verbal apraxia who had received vitamin E plus polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation. They noted that verbal apraxia is not only a speech disorder but rather a complex syndrome that affects a person’s neurologic function.

A subgroup of children emerged, characterised by autism, sensory issues, low muscle tone, food allergy, coordination problems, and impaired gastrointestinal function.

The presence of multiple allergies and intestinal problems are associated with nutritional deficiencies including vitamin E, omega-3, and carnitine. Following supplementation, 181 families (97 per cent) reported “dramatic improvements in a number of areas”, said the researchers. These included speech, behaviour, eye contact, and other sensory issues.

“We characterize a novel apraxia phenotype that responds to polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E,” wrote the researchers.

“Appropriate screening may identify a subgroup of children with a previously unrecognized syndrome of allergy, apraxia, and malabsorption who are responsive to nutritional interventions in addition to traditional speech and occupational therapy,” they added.

“Controlled trials in apraxia and autism spectrum disorders are warranted,” concluded Morris and Agin.

Bolton confirmed that work is indeed ongoing in this area, with the a clinical study and protocol designed to continue to understand the impact omega-3 and vitamin E have on autism and verbal apraxia, and to begin to determine the underlying mechanisms in verbal apraxia. However, funding for the study is yet to be secured, she said.

Source: Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine
July/August 2009, Volume 15, Number 4, Pages 34-43
"Syndrome of allergy, apraxia, and malabsorption: Characterisation of a neurodevelopmental phenotype that responds to omega-3 and vitamin E supplementation"
Authors: C.R. Morris, M.C. Agin

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