Food Choices in Autism: Addressing Chemical Imbalances

The UK Autism Foundation is campaigning to raise awareness on April 2nd, the United Nations World Autism Day, calling for better education, health services, specialist speech therapy and respite care for children and their families. Amidst growing concern for the support offered to children with autism and their families, nutrition scientist Dr Nina Bailey helpfully describes ways of managing symptoms, including the use of pure EPA omega-3 fish oil, which is capable of moderating the chemical imbalances that exacerbate many symptoms of autism.

Autism, classified also as ASD, affects 1 in 100 children, according to NHS figures, and almost 4 times more boys than girls. [1] Various degrees of autism and asperger’s syndrome – considered a milder version of autism – are commonly grouped together under the umbrella term ASD (autistic spectrum disorder). The National Autistic Society claims that there are 500,000 individuals with ASD in the UK. [2]

Autism principally affects a person’s communication and social skills, though individual symptoms are wide-ranging. Behavioural problems, anxiety or depression, aggression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hyperactivity and problems concentrating are common in ASD, often causing problems for the child and their immediate family. For these symptoms, there are short-term solutions, and many doctors will prescribe pharmaceutical medications which, although mask the symptoms, enable children to concentrate better and communicate with others.

Autism is a complex condition, however, and not all symptoms are effectively treated with medication, nor do all children with ASD experience the same set of symptoms. Critics also claim that there are substantial side effects with these drugs, including weight gain and heart problems. Professor Stephen Scoot of the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, also questions the long-term effects of these drugs, which are, as yet, unknown.

What options are there?

More people are taking an interest in nutrition, as well as medical professionals who are realising that the diet has a huge influence on our long-term health. A survey of medical students from UCLA and UC San Diego found that three-quarters felt that conventional Western medicine would benefit by integrating more complementary and alternative medicine. [3] With more up and coming doctors recognising that alternative means of approaching health and disease may ‘add’ to treatment options, we may see a change of approach in relation to the use of medication.

According to nutrition scientist Dr Nina Bailey, “Certain changes to a child’s diet can result in marked changes in their behaviour. As opposed to masking their symptoms, which drugs tend to do, by changing what a child eats we are effectively able to alter brain chemistry, helping to manage any chemical imbalances which may have contributed to behavioural symptoms at the outset.

“What we eat fuels our physiological processes, right down to the cellular level. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA fish oil, exhibit significant influence over electrical signalling in the brain and the balance of neurotransmitters, which affect concentration and behaviour. As well as increasing EPA in the diet it is important to minimise those foods which upset the delicate neurotransmitter balance in the brain – these include refined sugar added to packaged foods, as well as trans fats found in processed and deep-fried foods.”

Vegepa is a patented omega-3 EPA formulation, renowned for its high concentration of pure EPA fish oil, and is a popular choice for practitioners. With its precise ratio of long-chain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, it may offer benefits for learning, memory and behaviour via direct effects on brain function, including the regulation of neurotransmitters, and also indirectly on the expression of genes in the brain. Daily supplementation with EPA fish oil is associated with improvements in overall health, cognition, sleep patterns, social interactions, eye contact and anxiety.

To learn more about the role of EPA in autism , visit our autism microsite. If you are interested in exploring the possibility of getting omega-3 EPA on prescription, download our patient pack, which has enabled some people to successfully obtain Vegepa on prescription from their GP.


[1] NHS,

[2] NAS,

[3] UCLA,

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