Tips and Overview Patients and Families
Much of the current interest in megavitamin B6 therapy for autistic children stems from the publication of our report (Autism Research Institute) in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1978. This double-blind evaluation of B6, like our 1973 study, provided experimental evidence that B6 was helpful. Following the publication of our two successful studies, additional reports by other researchers have appeared, all of which confirm our findings. The published studies prove beyond a doubt that a substantial proportion of autistic children and adults show worthwhile benefits when given large daily supplements of B6 (pyridoxine). There are no studies showing vitamin B6 to have failed to help some of the children, and no reports show any children to have been harmed by the administration of megadose vitamin B6. Several of the studies show that B6 given with magnesium is better than B6 or magnesium given alone. Vitamin B6 is given to normalize body metabolism, not to distort it, as drugs do.
While a single vitamin, such as vitamin B6 may produce favorable results, optimum results are most likely to occur when other nutrients are also provided. Nutrients must form compounds in the body to be effective, and their effectiveness is limited when other nutrients are in short supply. Vitamins differ from drugs in this respect. Drugs operate as blocking agents and can thus function atone. Vitamins act as facilitating or enabling agents and require the presence of other nutrients. This is why vitamins are so much safer than drugs: vitamins assist the body’s metabolism, while drugs interfere with it.
Magnesium is the most important of these supplemental nutrients, because the body cannot properly utilize vitamin B6 without a sufficient supply of magnesium. If the child’s diet does not provide a good supply of this mineral, and it usually does not, magnesium must be provided as a supplement. Vitamin C, the other B vitamins, and zinc are among the nutrients that should be given if B6 treatment is to be safe and effective.
While some research studies have reported good results by using from 75 to 1,000 milligrams per day of vitamin B6, along with about 300 milligrams per day of magnesium, it is better to use a carefully formulated megavitamin product. Fortunately, such a product is available:
Megavitamin Formula: Kirkman Laboratories has a megavitamin product, Super Nu-Thera, that contains the vitamins and minerals necessary to put a child on megavitamin B6 therapy.
The formula is available both in caplet form and as a powder that may be mixed with applesauce, mashed potatoes, juices, or other foods the child finds palatable. The powder contains 500 mg of B6 per heaping teaspoon and adequate amounts of the other nutrients. Six caplets equal one heaping teaspoon of the powder. The treatment generally costs four to twenty dollars per month, depending on the amount needed and whether the caplets or powder is used. (Editor: There are now several versions of this product by the same manufacturer. See www.KirkmanLabs.com.)
Determining the correct dosage is an individual matter and must be done by careful trial and error. For autistic children between 40 and 60 pounds, a level teaspoon per day (or 3 caplets) of the Super Nu-Thera formula is usually needed. Children between 60 and 100 pounds usually need about one heaping teaspoon of the powder (6 caplets). For larger children or adults, one and one-half to two heaping teaspoons a day may be required. Most children on megavitamin B6 therapy need 250 to 750 mg (3 to 9 caplets) per day of vitamin B6, along with the other nutrients in normal amounts. Rarely does anyone need over two heaping teaspoons (contains 1,000 mg of B6) per day. In most cases, it is best to give any vitamins (whether in caplet or in powder form) in divided doses, so that the child receives half a dose twice a day, or, better yet, one-third the total dose with each meal.
It is recommended that the child be started on one-fourth the suggested dosage level and that the amount be increased gradually over a period of one week, so the child can adjust.
One necessary nutrient not adequately provided in Super Nu-Thera is calcium. Humans need about twice as much calcium as magnesium, but since so many children drink milk, adding calcium to Super Nu-Thera may result in their ingesting too much calcium. If the child does not drink milk, supplement the Super Nu-Thera with 500 to 1,000 mg per day of calcium, which may be purchased locally.
Safety: For decades, vitamin B6 has been considered perfectly safe, even when taken in very large amounts. In 1966, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated, “To date there has been no report of deleterious effects associated with the oral ingestion of large doses of vitamin B6 (0.2 to 1.0 g per day)” However, a 1983 report by Schaumburg et al. reported significant, though not permanent nor life-threatening, side-effects in six patients who had been taking 2,000 to 6,000 mg per day of B6. The side effects were numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. The foot numbness in some cases interfered with walking. These patients were not taking magnesium, the other B vitamins, nor any of the other nutrients that must be taken if one is taking large amounts of B6. It seems likely that the adverse reactions were due not to B6 “toxicity” but to deficiencies of magnesium and the other B vitamins created by taking large amounts of B6. The Super Nu-Thera formula was designed to prevent the kinds of side-effects Schaumburg et at. reported. Many thousands of autistic children have taken Super Nu-Thera with no significant adverse effects reported. The Schaumburg et al. patients began to improve when the B6 was discontinued. More recently there have been a few reports of side effects (numbness and tingling extremities) in people taking as little as 200 mg/day of B6 without the magnesium and the other protective and facilitating vitamins contained in Super Nu-Thera. Lelord (1988) stated that in his work with 91 autistic patients, “…in all our studies, no side effects were observed.” In the unlikely event that side effects are seen, contact a nutritionally informed physician. Vitamin B6 is certainly far safer than any of the drugs used for autistic children.
Keep in Mind
- It is wise to reduce sugar, soft drinks, and other junk foods in the child’s diet. Ample evidence exists that these are harmful for children, whether autistic or not.
- Vitamins should be administered with or after meals in two or three divided doses per day. This provides the optimum opportunity for vitamins and minerals to form proper compounds with other nutrients in the digestive system and bloodstream.
- Caplets are much easier to use than powder if the child will swallow caplets. If powder is used, it is best mixed with a soft food, such as applesauce. It may be mixed with juices, but unless care is taken, some ingredients will drop to the bottom of the glass and not be consumed. One parent mixes powder with partially thawed orange or grape juice that is still 11 slushy.”
- In many cases, behavioral improvement is seen after a few days on megavitamins. In other cases, behavior improves gradually, so little change is seen for two or three months. In perhaps 50% of the cases, the vitamins seem to be of no help, but do not draw this conclusion without a 60- to 90-day trial.
- Super Nu-Thera contains 30 mg of niacin per teaspoon. Even this small amount may cause temporary flushing and/or hives in very small children. The flushing is annoying for a few days, then disappears. It is not harmful.
- All ages may be helped. Some of the most impressive results have been seen in adults. In Ellman’s 1981 study of 16 adults, a 55-year-old responded best.
- The benefits most often observed in autistic children given B6 and the accompanying nutrients are increased use of sounds, words, or speech; improved sleeping habits; decrease in hyperactivity and irritability; better attention span; increase in interest in learning. In some cases, self-stimulating, self-injurious, and/or assaultive behaviors have decreased. Vitamin B6 makes the child more normal in many ways. Other benefits reported have included such indications of improved health as better skin color and complexion and better muscle tone. Many parents say their child has never been in better health than when on Super Nu-Thera.
- If a child is on prescription drugs, most physicians who use megavitamins recommend that the drugs be continued for several weeks after vitamins are started. If improvement is observed, a process of weaning the child from the drugs may be initiated. It is often possible for the drug dosage to be cut in half, and in many cases the drugs may be discontinued. (This should be discussed with the child’s doctor. Stopping drugs suddenly can be harmful.)
- It is suggested that parents refrain from mentioning the child’s vitamin therapy to grandparents, teachers, neighbors, or others who have frequent contact with the child. Such people often provide spontaneous comments that are helpful in gaining an objective assessment of the child’s response to the vitamins.
- If no improvement is seen by 90 days (usually benefits would be apparent long before that), it may be concluded that the child does not need extra B6. The Super Nu-Thera should then be tapered off and stopped
Dr. Rimland was founder and director for the Autism Research Institute, and an Advisory Board Member for ACN Latitudes. He passed away in 2006 and is greatly missed.