By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 30 March 2012)
There is evidence that zinc supplements may benefit some children with autistic spectrum disorders.
Rationale for Zinc Supplementation
Yorbik et al. (2004) found that autistic children had significantly lower zinc levels than neurotypical (non-autistic) controls. And although Rossignol’s (2009) comprehensive review identified no studies of zinc’s use to treat autistic symptoms, he notes that research has linked low zinc levels to learning problems and hyperactivity.
According to Dr. Jeremy Kaslow (2011a), “Copper and zinc are regarded as neurotransmitters and are in high concentrations in the brain’s hippocampus. As a result, elevated copper and depressed zinc have been associated with hyperactivity, attention deficit disorders, behavior disorders, and depression.” Kaslow (2011b) notes that zinc deficiency can trigger angry outbursts and general irritability, as well as impairing immune function and stunting growth. He asserts that people who meet the diagnostic criteria for autism, attention deficit disorder, eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia (all conditions that have a higher prevalence among the autistic population) are more likely to be zinc-deficient than those who don’t suffer from these disorders.
Evidence of Zinc’s Effectiveness in Treating Autistic Symptoms
Thus far, evidence for zinc’s use in treating autistic spectrum disorder symptoms is anecdotal. Autism Research Institute parent ratings for zinc supplementation yielded mixed results, with 51% saying that their autistic children improved with the supplement, 2% saying symptoms grew worse, and 47% noting no effect. As for Asperger’s syndrome, parent ratings suggested improvement with zinc supplementation in 58% of cases, a worsening of symptoms in 4%, and no noticeable change in 38%.
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.
For more facts about zinc and a list of the best natural sources, see the main Zinc page.
Other Autism Supplements
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 Research Institute. (2008). “Parent Ratings for Autism” and “Parent Ratings for Asperger’s Syndrome.” Autism.com.
- Kaslow, J.E., MD, FACP, FACAAI. (2011). “Copper/Zinc Imbalance (a)” and “Zinc Deficiency and Metabolism (b).” DrKaslow.com.
- 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.
- Rossignol, D.A., MD, FAAFP. (2009). “Novel and Emerging Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review.” American Academy of Clinical Psychiatrists, AACP.com.
- Yorbik, O.; Akay, C.; Sayal, A.; Cansever, A.; Söhmen, T.; & Çavdar, A.O. (2004). “Zinc Status in Autistic Children.” The Journal of Trace Elements in Experimental Medicine, 17(2), pp. 101-107.