Vitamin B6 Helpful for Autistic Children
Vitamin B6 can increase the IQ of some children with pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs)—a group of conditions related to autism—according to a new report in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology (2002;44:284–6). This new study confirms previous research demonstrating that vitamin B6 supplementation (usually in combination with magnesium) is helpful for autistic children.
Autism and PDDs are disorders of brain development that share a number of characteristics, such as an impaired ability to communicate, understand language, and relate to others; repetitive movements and behaviors; and increased sensitivity to noise and other stimuli. PDDs are considered milder forms of autism. Although the cause of these disorders is unknown, there is evidence they are caused by damage to the nervous system or biochemical imbalances in the brain.
Researchers have observed that, in some children with PDDs, the condition resembles vitamin B6-dependent epilepsy, a genetic disorder in which children develop seizures that can be controlled only by large amounts of vitamin B6. Features common to these two conditions include poor verbal expression, impaired coordination, and hypersensitivity to sound. Because of these similarities, it is possible that certain children with PDDs might benefit from vitamin B6, just as those with vitamin B6-dependent epilepsy do. To test that possibility, scientists identified 11 children between the ages of 6 and 17 years with PDDs who did not have epilepsy, but who did exhibit the other features of vitamin B6-dependent epilepsy. These children were randomly assigned to receive either vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) or a placebo for four weeks. The amount of vitamin B6 used was 100 mg once a day for the first two weeks and twice a day thereafter. The average verbal IQ increased by 11.2 points in the children given vitamin B6, compared with 6.0 points in the placebo group, a statistically significant difference.
Although the new study was limited to a subset of children with PDDs, it is possible that others with this disorder might also benefit from vitamin B6. Previous research has shown that autistic children treated with a combination of vitamin B6 and magnesium exhibited increased alertness, fewer emotional outbursts, and less self-mutilation. Additional research is needed to determine which children are most likely to benefit from these nutritional supplements.
No significant side effects were observed in these studies. However, the amount of vitamin B6 used was extremely large, and has the potential to cause damage to the nervous system. Therefore, parents wishing to consider vitamin B6 therapy for their child should consult a doctor familiar with its use.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the Medical Editor for Clinical Essentials Alert, is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). Currently he is the Endowed Professor of Nutrition at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, Kenmore, WA.
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