Speech Vitamins: Are They Effective?
When we first heard that there was such a thing as "speech vitamins," it came as a great surprise. Supplements are available with claims that they can help children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and oral and speech apraxia, a condition that makes volitional movement impossible or difficult.
But before parents run out to order these products, we'd like to point out that, after poring over the literature, there is a lack of really good research in this area. One of the products is a mix of vitamin E and Omega-3 Fatty Acids and is touted as treating both conditions. Even though oral apraxia is relatively rare, it is common in children with ASD. This product was developed by Dr. Marilyn Agin, the developmental pediatrician who used to be in charge of the state's Early Intervention program. She and another pediatrician, Dr. Claudia Morris did a study on 187 children diagnosed with verbal apraxia, associated with ASD. The researchers identified a phenotype of autism with sensory issues, malabsorption (such as gluten intolerance) and poor coordination, as well as other deficits. The doctors reported that 181 out of 187 families noted significant improvements. The researchers went on to suggest that "controlled trials are warranted."
Drs. Agin and Morris now have a patented product which they sell through a company called NourishLife. The product is called Speak and consists of Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Omega-3 Fatty Acids (EPA and DHA) and GLA. Because children with ASD often have digestive disorders, treatment with supplements has been the subject of research. In the 1980s, we treated a severely autistic boy who was being seen by a doctor in Staten Island Hospital for "vitamin therapy." This boy had suffered from chronic, recurrent ear infections and was constantly on antibiotics during the first two years of his life. The doctor felt that his digestive tract and nervous system had been compromised by this and treated him with B complex vitamins. (This boy, who was about 8 years old at this time, did not benefit from this treatment.) So treating children with ASD using nutrients is nothing new. The rationale for using Omega – 3 Fatty Acids is because they are necessary for optimal brain functioning. (Salmon, for example, which contains Omega – 3 Fatty Acids is touted as being "brain food.") Some concerns about the NourishLife product are the lack of research and the large amount of Vitamin E: five times the recommended daily amount. If more research is done, and these kinds of products are found to be effective, that will be a wonderful addition to our arsenal for treating Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Another small study looked at ASD and Vitamin C. Only 18 subjects were studied. The finding was a small decrease in stereotypic behaviors, with the recommendation that more research be done. No other study has provided a similar result.
Stuttering has also been the subject of much research. Dr. Martin Schwartz of NYU looked at treating adult stutterers with thiamine. His study lasted for two weeks and evaluated adult males only. Dr. Schwartz found that 30% of his clients showed significant improvement and suggested future research be performed using a lipid based form of the vitamins.
One study found that woman with Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy were twice as likely to have a child with a language delay. This study, done in Australia, followed 750 mothers and their children for 10 years.
Certainly, there is much more work to be done in this area. Until we have large numbers, with replicated results, common sense should prevail. We know that good nutrition is important in mothers-to-be and in developing, growing children. Behaving accordingly makes the most sense at the current time, especially with those ASD numbers continuing to grow.