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Getting a Handle on all the Supplements

The biomedical approach to autism supplementation can seem overwhelming when you first look at it. The following is a piece I wrote years ago when my son was much younger, in response to this overwhelm and confusion, expressed by moms on the email lists I read.

Don’t despair.  You can do this.   It just takes some time, learning, planning and most of all, patience. There are really just a handful of basic supplements to understand at first, as you establish a nutritional foundation.  After you’ve got the basics figured out, you can start reading and learning about the next steps, and learn how to make intelligent decisions about which ones are worth pursuing for yourself or your particular child.  I am a big proponent of people being in charge of their own health, and it is definitely possible to do.  The most successful approach I know – healthier for the child, easier for the parent –  is gradual, one thing at a time, and mostly non-prescription.   You may need the help of a medical specialist at various points of the journey, but there’s a lot you can do on your own.

This document puts together a philosophy of supplementation that has worked very well for many sensitive children.  Regardless of your level of expertise, there will be some trial and error involved.  This is for a number of reasons, with several different goals.   In the case of autism/ADHD/multiple allergic children, in particular:

1. Most of these children’s digestive systems are inflamed and out of balance.  Many of these children cannot absorb nutrients well from foods.

2. Due to toxins and genetics, many body systems are out of balance.   Good nutrition can help with this.

3. An initial goal of supplementing vitamins and minerals is to get enough of what the body needs to absorb where it needs to go, to support the body in being able to function better, and eventually pick up some of the work itself and function better on it’s own.

4. Another important goal is to support the gut, so that it can absorb nutrients better.  We want the give the gut enough support — enough good bacteria (probiotics), soothing nutrients to calm inflammation, make it less hospitable to bad bugs, so it can get itself back in balance.

The Basics

You will be implementing the following basic 3 stages:

1. Establish a Nutritional Foundation

2. Balance the Gut

3. Help the Body Detoxify

Stage 1 – Establish a Nutritional Foundation

Here’s how I like to break down the basic supplement list for parents when I talk to them:
1. Vitamins and minerals
2. Fatty acids (i.e. fish oil)
3. Probiotics
4. Digestive Enzymes

That’s really it. There are a hundred different variations within each, but that’s the basic list. First and probably the most important rule: only try or change one new thing at a time.

Everybody Say it with me:


So this means, if you increase the dose of one supplement, don’t change ANYTHING else for a few days. If you start a new supplement, keep everything else the child is taking exactly the same as before. Only ONE change at a time. This might sound simplistic, but you’d be surprised how tempting it can be to mess with several things in the same few days, and then you have no idea what’s up when the child starts climbing the walls!  For my son, my magic length of time for any supplement change, no matter how small, was 3 days.  For some extremely sensitive or young kids, I’ve known moms who needed to go much slower, in 1-week or even 2-week periods between changes.

Some new supplements cause more change in the body than others.  For major new things, such as digestive enzymes and targeted vitamins/minerals, you’ll want to give a good while for your child to get used to and settle into a good dosage. This shouldn’t be rushed. For each of these, I’d plan on it taking a few weeks, possibly longer.  Spending the time to get these well started will pay off for you. Start a low dosage and watch your child carefully, increasing gradually when you think he’s ready to, and being ready to back off again or change your plan and slow down if he’s not.

With Brainchild Vitamins and Minerals,  which  I’m most familiar with, it seems to go easiest if people start with minerals only, let the child get a little bit settled on those, then start vitamins, low and slow, being prepared to wait for awhile for the body to settle in at a low dose if needed.    It takes longer than just plunging in, but if your child is extra sensitive, extra small or very allergic in general, I think it’s the most smooth way to introduce them – easiest on the child, and on you. There’s a similar gradual increasing and settling-in period for almost any other supplement you introduce.   Each kid will vary, but for my son, I would plan at least a week for anything he’d never taken before, just so I could take it slow and make sure he was doing well before starting anything else.

If the first product you try doesn’t seem quite right, here are some things to try:

  1. Cut back on the dosage and see if that helps.  Some kids need a very gradual introduction.
  2. BE PATIENT.  Try to resist the need to see instant results or improvements.  We find with Brainchild’s that some children have difficulty tolerating them at first, but after their body has time to get used to getting the nutrients in at a very low dosage, it starts being able to utilize them better, and they are able to move to full dose and have good results. It just really takes patience, in this case.
  3. Try a “sensitive” version of the same formula.  At BrainChild, we have two sensitive formula vitamins and one mineral, designed for those who are not ready to take the regular formulas, or are sensitive to the ingredients.
  4. Do some reading and try to understand the biochemistry involved.  Figure out what might be keeping his body from being able to use these supplements.  Is there some co-factor you could give that might help his/her body be able to use the supplement?
  5. Get testing done that might help figure out what else might need to be in place to help his body along.
  6. Try a different brand.  I must have gone through 10 brands of probiotics, and even though I KNEW my son had tons of candida, none of them were quite a fit until the last one.  After awhile, I’d collect good brands and automatically buy a different brand every time I ran out of the previous one, just throwing as many different good bacteria at his gut until I found some that could colonize.  No matter how good a product is, it’s not a fit for everyone.

My own rule of thumb for starting new supplements is as follows:

  • With most other supplements, you can plan on a week or two startup period. Get your foundation (1-4 above) well established before you let yourself get sucked in by other things.
  • General rule is to start each new supplement at 1/4 of the full dose you have in mind – or even less if your child seems extremely sensitive.
  • After 3 days or so, if all is well, go up to 1/2 dose, then full dose in another few days. Watch the child closely for signs you need to slow down or that the child can’t tolerate it.
  • IMPORTANT: Take notes about when you started what and at what dose. Include any changes you observe in digestion, behavior, sleep, appetite, skin color and so on, and note any time you change the dosage or add anything, and any unusual events in the child’s life that might help clarify.
  • Have a written plan ahead of time and stick to it, don’t try to rush or stop and start lots of things all over the place, or you won’t know what’s helping and what isn’t.
  • If you see a little loose stools when starting new supplements, don’t worry – this is the most common problem and will probably settle down in a couple days. Most often, it’s a result of shifting the chemistry of the body a little, and the body just has to adjust.  Just stay at the dose you’re at until things settle down.

Stage 2 – Balance the Gut

Most of our autistic kids, and many of us who have been eating the standard American diet (SAD), have an excessive amount of yeast and other bugs in their intestines.  If you’re working with a doctor, this will be one of his/her first goals. If not, you may next want to try to determine if the child has yeast, and treat for it. You can read my journal on Rotating Natural Antifungals for more on that.

Heavy Metals, i.e. MERCURY
The large majority of our children seem to be unable to detoxify their bodies, the way normal people do, so they have a lot of heavy metals in their bodies.  This can affect brain function, energy production, and many other things. Once the yeast is under control, it’s time to start getting rid of the heavy metals. See, this isn’t that complicated, is it? Just expensive, and time consuming, and inconvenient, and… well, ok, maybe a little complicated.

When you get to this point, it’s time to find a doctor you can trust to oversee this for you. The best way to find a good doctor in your area is to get referrals from other parents.

Trying Other Supplements
As you go, you’ll have well-meaning people of all kinds, like your doctor, your naturopath, your healthfood store clerk, other moms you talk with, your mother in law, and plenty of others, qualified and not-so-much, suggest other possible supplements to you.  They’re just trying to help, but it can be overwhelming.  The list will get long. As you’re considering each one, there are some good things to check out before even considering trying a new supplement:

Look critically at any possible supplement.  Be sure it contains no heavy metals, artificial sweeteners, colors, preservatives or anything your child is allergic to. Our kids are generally quite sensitive to these kinds of things.

Start to think about what ‘kind’ of a thing it is — is it a vitamin? a mineral? an amino acid? a nutritional supplement? a hormone? Are you already giving or have you in the past tried this ‘kind’ of supplement, intended to do the same thing?  Is the one suggested better than what you have already tried in some way?

What is this supplement supposed to help with? Do you have any evidence (test results, observations, etc.) that your child’s body needs this kind of help?  Try to reason it through. This will get easier as you learn more.

Try to find at least a few other moms, who have tried this supplement and really think it helped kids similar to yours — there are a thousand things you could try, and most of them are not worth your time and energy.   Online groups are great for chatting with moms who have tried a specific supplement, although I never make any decision solely based on things I read online.

If you are trying one or more new supplements,  look at any other supplementation changes you have in mind, and put them in a logical sequence, one at a time. Write down which you are trying, when you start, what dosage and what you see.  Don’t get impulsive and start lots of things at the same time.


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