By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 30 March 2012)
Popularly known as a critical mineral for bone health, calcium also plays a role in nervous system function and the activation of various hormones and enzymes. Many children with autism have lower-than-average calcium levels (Tong-hyung, 1 October 2010), and children on dairy-free diets (a common autism intervention) are particularly vulnerable to calcium deficiency (Rossignol, 2009).
Calcium May Be Beneficial in Reducing Anxiety
Rossignol’s (2009) systematic review found no compelling evidence of calcium’s efficacy for treating autistic spectrum disorders, but there is some evidence that calcium may be beneficial for treating anxiety, a problem that often accompanies autistic spectrum disorders and triggers or worsens their more distressing symptoms. According to doctor Bourne (2005, p. 360), “Depletion of calcium can result in nerve cell overactivity, which may be one of the underlying physiological bases of anxiety.”
Of 2,097 parent ratings of calcium’s effectiveness for treating autistic symptoms (provided to the Autism Research Institute), 35% saw improvements, 62% found no change, and 3% noted a worsening of symptoms. The 191 parent ratings for the use of calcium to treat Asperger’s syndrome yielded similar results, with 36% noting benefits, 61% no effect, and 3% a worsening of symptoms.
Natural Sources of Calcium
Foods high in calcium include:
- Cheese (especially Swiss)
- Sesame seeds
- Canned salmon
- Canned or cooked legumes such as beans
- Certain dark leafy greens (such as turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, and broccoli)
- Cooked oysters and scallops
- Sunflower seeds
*If using leafy greens as a calcium source, keep in mind that some leafy greens, such as chard, beet greens, and spinach, contain oxalic acid, which interferes with the absorption of calcium. These vegetables are worth eating because they provide many other important nutrients, but they’re not good sources of calcium. However, oxalic acid can be reduced by cooking.
Other Autism Supplements
For more on the effectiveness of other supplements for treating autistic spectrum disorders, see the main Autism Supplements page. For a full list of articles on autism and Asperger’s syndrome, visit the main Autistic Spectrum Disorders page.
Always consult a qualified medical practitioner before taking supplements or giving them to your child. Many supplements are toxic at certain doses and may interact with some medications or create problems for people with certain medical conditions.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a doctor.
- Adams, J.B., PhD, & Audhya, T., PhD. (n.d.). “Nutritional Supplements for Autism.” DocStoc.com.
- Autism Research Institute. (2008). “Parent Ratings for Autism” and “Parent Ratings for Asperger’s Syndrome.” Autism.com.
- Bourne, Edmund J., PhD. (2005). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
- McGinnis, W.R., MD. (15 July 2005). “Oxidative Stress in Autism: What Parents Should Know.” ASA’s 36th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-16, 2005). ASA.Confex.com.
- Meguid, N.A.; Hashish, A.F.; Anwar, M.; & Sidhom, G. (2010). “Reduced Serum Levels Of 25-Hydroxy and 1,25-Dihydroxy Vitamin D in Egyptian Children with Autism.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(6), 641-645.
- Rossignol, D.A., MD, FAAFP. (2009). “Novel and Emerging Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review.” American Academy of Clinical Psychiatrists, AACP.com.
- Strickland, E., MS, RD, LD. (2009). Eating for Autism: The 10-Step Nutrition Plan to Help Treat Your Child’s Autism, Asperger’s, or ADHD. Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA.
- Tong-Hyung, K. (10 January 2010). “New Finding May Assist Autism Treatment.” The Korea Times, KoreaTimes.co.kr.