Magnesium in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is Magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral that can be found in the earth, plants, animals sea, and humans. About 60% of the magnesium in the body is in the bone, while the rest is in muscles, soft tissues, and fluids, including blood. Every cell in the body contains it and needs it to function. One of magnesium's main roles is acting as a co factor or "helper molecule" in the biochemical reactions continuously performed by enzymes. It's implicated in more than 600 reactions in the body, including:

  • Energy production: Helps convert food into energy.
  • Protein formulation: Helps create new proteins from amino acids.
  • Gene conservation: Helps create and repair DNA and RNA.
  • Muscle motion: Is part of the contraction and relaxation of muscles.
  • Nervous system organization: Helps regulate neurotransmitters, which send messages throughout your brain and nervous system

Magnesium is important for normal bone structure in the body. People get magnesium from their diet, but sometimes magnesium supplements are needed if magnesium levels are too low. Low magnesium levels in the body have been linked to diseases such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, clogged arteries, hereditary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Several studies have found that children on the autism spectrum as well as those diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or related disorders are deficient in magnesium and that magnesium supplementation can improve symptoms such as hyperactivity, restlessness, fidgeting and body rocking, poor concentration, and noise sensitivity.

What Are Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that impacts patient communication and behavior. Although we can diagnose Autism at any age, it is described as a "developmental disorder" because the symptoms usually manifest in the first two years of life. 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a guide created by the American Psychiatric Association used to diagnose mental disorders, children with ASD have:

  • Relationship disorders; the child is "too good" with very few smiles.
  • Visual contact disorders; missing or poor visual attention; doesn't look at the parents; the look is shifty.
  • Difficulty in listening; seems not to hear; delayed communication; doesn't repeat words.
  • Motor affectation; doesn't take the toys; stereotyped movements of the hands; sits and walks belatedly; hypo-tonicity or hyper-tonicity.
  • Sleeping disorders; broken sleep; crying.
  • Feeding difficulties; slobbers; cannot swallow; refuses food.

The major feature of autism spectrum disorder is that the symptoms only manifest themselves after the age of eighteen months and before the age of three. It is considered a regression of development. 

After three years, the clinical picture of ASD becomes typical:

Impairment of social interactions.

  • Visual contact: doesn't look at the parents and the siblings; gives a blank look; look is shifty.
  • Connection with equals: has no interest with the parents, with the friends at the primary school; seems to be "in their bubble".
  • Delight partitions: has no emotional relationship with the family, cannot express their pleasure for the event, does not show social reciprocity in the form of an answer to a human presence.

Loss of communication.

  • Delayed communication: speaks belatedly; some sounds or some syllables are emitted late; few spontaneous verbal exchanges; lack of creativity in thought.
  • No communication: doesn't repeat words.
  • Stereotypical language: repeats the same word sometimes without significance.
  • Social mimicking: cannot reproduce something after a long time earnestly trying.

Stereotyped restricted behavior.

  • Stereotyped interest: has a very poor interest or repeats the same answer for something.
  • Customs.
  • Handling things: difficulty to take the things, to take toys, and can have abnormal movements.
  • Motor affectation: to walk, moves with difficulty, to bring something to somebody, cannot take initiative.

Abnormal or delayed functioning.

  • Language.
  • Social interactions.
  • Symbolic games: doesn't understand the rules of the game; cannot dream up the game.
  • Behavioral disorders like sleeping disorders, aggressiveness, impulsivity; attention deficit; cannot listen.

Magnesium and ASDs

Magnesium metabolism could be involved in autism and autism spectrum disorders. As it prevents encephalopathy and developmental delay and it also reduces central nervous system hyperexcitability, which is a landmark symptom in children with autism.

Researchers have reported that children with autism can have significantly lower levels of magnesium in their hair and blood than non-autistic children. With existing evidence that magnesium supplementation can have a calming effect on some children with (ADHD) and (ASDs).

Several studies investigated the effect of Mg supplements for treating social, communication and behavioral responses of children with autism in connection with the Mg/calcium status of the child and found that when autistic children were supplemented with Mg- B6 treatment, Mg values increased in 65% of the children, improving the symptoms of the condition.

There is, however, some controversy surrounding the evidence for the effectiveness of vitamin B6 and magnesium in autism. besides the necessity of Mg for the overall physical health as well as the proper functioning of the brain, there is no one specific theory about how magnesium deficiency could contribute to autism. And the process by which Mg supplements help autistic children is not entirely clear.

Children with ASD require special nutritional care: Early diagnosis can ensure professional help from the start, including assistance in establishing a healthy, varied diet. Because there is no clear evidence of a link between ASD and nutrition, elimination of certain foods should only be tried in documented cases and combined with Mg supplements, those being economical and with low toxicity, can be prescribed for long periods under medical supervision.

Magnesium is found in many foods especially ion foods rich in fibers like green vegetables, seeds, nuts, and whole grains. It can be taken on a daily basis. And while it is not clear what the proper dose for children with autism should be, one research report used a dose of 10-15 mg/kg/day (or about 180-270 mg total daily for a 40-pound child) divided into two doses.