By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 30 May 2011)
Many studies have been carried out to examine the effects of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and magnesium supplements on autistic spectrum disorders. Although B6/magnesium therapy shows great promise, studies of supplementation often use small sample sizes or rely on subjective reporting by parents, so more research is required before definitive conclusions can be drawn.
Efficacy of Vitamin B6 in Treating Autistic Symptoms
A 1968 study of 16 autistic children with serious behavioral problems found that 75% made dramatic improvements with high doses of vitamin B6, 3 of them actually speaking for the first time ever (Bonisch, 1968). The subjects also made better eye contact, showed greater interest in interacting, and had fewer outbursts of emotion or temper. While not entirely cured, their functioning was significantly higher.
A number of additional studies suggest that treatment with vitamin B6 along with magnesium may help to reduce autistic symptoms ranging from communication difficulties to poor emotional control, though there have also been studies that have found no effect.
Of 6,634 Autism Research Institute parent ratings of the use of vitamin B6 and magnesium for treating autism symptoms, 48% saw improvements, 48% no effect, and 4% a worsening of symptoms. Of 321 parent ratings for the use of B6 and magnesium to treat Asperger’s syndrome, 50% saw improvements, while 45% saw no effects, and 5% said that their children grew worse. Magnesium on its own was not as effective, with improvements noted in just 29% of autism cases and 16% of Asperger cases.
Some believe that those with autistic spectrum disorders may suffer from deficiencies of vitamin B6 and magnesium, given the significant benefits that are sometimes achieved through supplementation. Interestingly, magnesium has also proven beneficial for some children with ADHD, the symptoms of which are often similar to those of high-functioning autistic spectrum disorders (Autism Canada, 2011).
People with autistic spectrum disorders often suffer from depression or anxiety as well. Because vitamin B6 has the beneficial effect of increasing the levels of GABA and serotonin in the blood, it may reduce dysphoric or unhappy mental states (Barker & Meletis, 2004). While these are preliminary findings and more research is needed, given that vitamin supplementation is relatively safe when overseen by a qualified doctor, B6 could be useful in treating the problematic emotional states of those with autism or Asperger’s syndrome.
B vitamins work best when taken together. If considering vitamin therapy with B6, adding a B-complex vitamin is recommended.
Some supplements can be toxic at overly high doses. Always consult a doctor before supplementing to establish safe dosing.
Other Complementary Therapies for Autistic Spectrum Disorders
For more on the effectiveness of various 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.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a doctor.
- Autism Canada Foundation. (2011). “Nutritional – B6 and Magnesium.” AutismCanada.org.
- Autism Research Institute. (2008). “Parent Ratings for Autism” and “Parent Ratings for Asperger’s Syndrome.” Autism.com.
- Barker, J., ND, & Meletis, C., ND. (October 2004). “Approaches to Anxiety.” Towsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, TownsendLetter.com.
- Bonisch, V.E. (1984). “Erfahrungen mit Pyrithioxin bei Hirngeschadigten Kindern mit Autistischem Syndrom.” Praxis der Kinderpsychologie, 8, 308-310.
- Edelson, S., PhD. (2002). “Vitamin B6 and Magnesium” and “Di-methyl-glycine (DMG).” Center for the Study of Autism, Autism.org.
- Gerlach, E.K. (2003). Autism Treatment Guide. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons Inc.
- Rimland, B., PhD. (1997). “What Is the Right ‘Dosage’ for Vitamin B6, DMG, and Other Nutrients Useful in Autism?” Autism Research Institute, AutismWebsite.com. Reprinted from Autism Research Review International, 11(4), 3.
- Rimland, B., PhD. (1987). “Vitamin B6 (and Magnesium) in the Treatment of Autism.” Autism Research Institute, Autism.org. Reprinted from Autism Research Review International, Vol. 1(4).
- The National Autistic Society. (2008). “Diet and Vitamins: Therapeutic Approaches.” Autism.org.uk.