The biomedical approach to treating autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is based on the premise that autism is a biological disease affecting the whole body. Biomedical treatments emphasize functional medicine, which involves restoring a healthy balance to all body systems as an approach to treating ASD. Biomedical therapies may be considered a subset of complementary and alternative treatments. Doctors differ in their opinions of whether various biomedical treatments are safe or effective. Some biomedical treatments have not received thorough, clinical testing.
If you choose to try a biomedical treatment, it is important to maintain the traditional drug and therapy regimen established by your doctor. These treatments have been proven effective in rigorous, scientific trials. It is also vital to inform your child’s doctor of all treatments you incorporate so that they can warn you about any potential interactions and correctly interpret any side effects.
What does it involve?
Doctors who favor the biomedical approach may perform a thorough physical exam of your child before beginning treatment. They may order blood tests to check for nutrient, sulfate and toxin levels, or allergy tests to check for problematic foods. Below are the basic facts of the most prominent biomedical therapies.
Dietary changes and nutritional supplements are important components of the biomedical approach. Diet-based treatments may include the gluten-free/casein-free (GFCF) diet, elimination of other prominent trigger foods such as corn, soy or chocolate, testing for food allergies, and the addition of nutritional supplements. Many supplements have been recommended as part of the biomedical approach to treating autism. Among them are Vitamin B-6 and magnesium, Methyl B-12 injections, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. If your child has a restricted or idiosyncratic diet, a multivitamin containing the recommended daily amounts of essential vitamins and minerals may be taken once a day.
Melatonin supplements may be recommended for sleep problems. Melatonin is a hormone available over the counter in pill, spray or dissolvable tablet form, taken each night. Consult your doctor for dosage and timing.
Since autism is often accompanied by gastrointestinal problems, doctors may recommend probiotic supplements to restore a healthy balance of bacteria to your child’s intestines. If the doctor suspects an infection, they may prescribe antifungal or antibiotic medication.
The doctor may test your child for a thyroid imbalance by taking their temperature or testing their urine. If thyroid problems are suspected, the doctor may recommend iodine supplements or prescribe thyroid hormones.
Chelation, or removal of toxic metals from the body, is a controversial treatment for autistic spectrum disorder. Treatment involves one or more rounds of a chemical called 2, 3 dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA). Chelation therapy must be administered in a medical setting.
Due to potential side effects, chelation should only be considered if your child tests positive for heavy metal contamination. Your doctor might also recommend glutathione, a substance that helps protect the body against toxins, or supplementing with Vitamin C.
If blood tests showed low levels of sulfates, your doctor might recommend oral supplements or baths with Epsom salts in order to raise them. Sulfates play several key roles in the body, including promoting detoxification, maintaining a healthy gut, and the production of hormones.
In some children with autism, autoimmunity may play a role. The doctor may prescribe pioglitazone or low-dose naltrexone to moderate the immune system. Intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIG) are an expensive but potentially effective treatment currently under study.
All biomedical treatments are intended to promote overall health and ease symptoms of autistic spectrum disorders.
There are many anecdotal reports from parents of improvements in speech and behavior in children after beginning the GFCF diet. However, current clinical research is inconclusive on whether this diet is truly effective in treating ASD symptoms, or whether it is only effective for certain children. Further studies are underway.
Many other supplements have produced mixed results during clinical tests for treatment of ASD, or have not yet been tested in clinical studies.
In a controlled trial, parents of autistic children given multivitamins reported improved behavior as compared to the parents of children given a placebo.
There were mixed results for high doses of vitamin B-6 and magnesium, but some positive indications that the treatment could improve outbursts, self-mutilation and other stereotypical ASD behaviors. The treatment was most commonly effective for young boys who were small for their age.
Methyl B-12 injections were found to improve autistic behaviors in some individuals as determined by some standards.
In one study, amino acids were found to improve expressiveness and vocabulary in autistic children.
One small study suggested that supplementing with essential fatty acids could improve behavioral problems in children with ASD.
A 2013 article summarized the findings of 20 clinical studies on the use of melatonin for sleep disorders in children with ASD. Researchers found that melatonin helped promote earlier sleep
onset, longer sleep duration, and fewer nighttime awakenings. Some studies also showed improvements in daytime behavior in children with sleep disorders who used melatonin.
In clinical trials, chelation therapy has produced improvements in language, social behavior, and cognition when performed on children with confirmed toxic levels of metal in their blood.
One small clinical trial of pioglitazone for autistic children indicated that it might improve behavioral symptoms. A review of 14 clinical trials of low-dose naltrexone found that it can provide significant decreases in self-injury and may improve eye contact and attention in some children.
If your current doctor does not support biomedical treatments, you may decide to look for a doctor who does.
Some insurers will cover certain biomedical therapies, but others may not cover any, or may not cover the specific therapy you want to try. Out-of-pocket costs for biomedical therapies may be expensive.
Depending on where you live, it may be difficult to obtain some biomedical therapies.
An overdose of Vitamin B-6 can cause neuropathy. Overdose of magnesium can cause diarrhea.
Chelation can cause side effects including kidney and liver damage, diarrhea, regression, gastrointestinal issues, rash, and fatigue.
Melatonin should be used with caution and physician oversight in children. Melatonin may interact with other hormones, which may result in the disturbance of growth patterns in adolescents. Melatonin may increase the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and seizures in some people.
Medications for autoimmunity can cause a number of serious side effects including increased risk for infections.