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Complementary and alternative medicine use in a large pediatric autism sample

Posted Nov 09 2012 4:05pm

The journal Pediatrics has a large number of autism related articles in a recent supplement . One of these covers a topic discussed a great deal by parent groups online: alternative medical approaches to the treatment of autism. In Complementary and alternative medicine use in a large pediatric autism sample , James Perrin (this one of his five articles in the Supplement; Dr. Perrin is the president elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics ) and his coauthors use the Autism Treatment Network (ATN) to review parent report of use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in regards to autism.

The authors find that while CAM is used by a significant minority of parents, it is a minority: 28% (896 out of 3173). Special diets are the most common (548 respondents, 17%). Various methodologies are listed below:

Characteristic N
Any CAM 896
Special diets 548
Gluten-free diet 249
Casein-free diet 289
No processed sugars 69
No sugars or salicylates 28
Feingold diet 14
Other specified special diet 293
Other CAM 643
Other vitamin supplements 413
Probiotics 274
Essential fatty acids 171
Digestive enzymes 116
Higher dosing vitamin B6 and magnesium 99
Chiropractic 77
Amino acids 59
Antifungals 58
Glutathione 33
Chelation 19
Hyperbaric oxygen 12
Acupuncture 10
Sulfation 7
Other specified CAM 173

Some of the most talked about methodologies are rarely used. Chelation, for example, had only 19 respondents or 0.6%. Hyperbaric oxygen, 0.4%. Previously, chelation had been reported as being used by about 7% of families . If these studies are comparable, this would indicate that chelation has dropped from low to very low in use by parents.

CAM usage is higher among the wealthy, whites, those with children with autism vs PDD NOS or Asperger syndrome, and higher among those whose children have gastrointestinal complaints and/or seizures. The authors note:

As with other CAM use, it will help to determine more about the potential synergistic effects of CAM with medical treatments as well as ways that CAM use may interfere with improvement in medical conditions.

The full article is available free online including a discussion of limitations of the study. The abstract is copied below:

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE Children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), usually along with other medical care. This study aimed to determine associations of ASD diagnostic category, co-existing conditions, and use of medications with use of CAM.

METHODS We used the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network patient registry, which collects information on CAM use, medical conditions, and psychotropic medication at enrollment. CAM was categorized as special diets versus “other” CAM; ASD was defined as autism, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), or Asperger’s. Gastrointestinal symptoms, seizure disorders, sleep problems, and medication use were determined from parent report. Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) scores were used to measure behavioral symptoms. Logistic regression was used to determine associations of diagnostic category, other medical conditions, and medication use with CAM treatments, controlling for demographic characteristics.

RESULTS Of 3413 subjects in the registry as of April 2011, 3173 had complete data on CAM use: 896 (28%) reported any use; 548 (17%), special diets; and 643 (20%), other CAM. Higher rates of CAM use were associated with gastrointestinal symptoms (odds ratio [OR] = 1.88), seizures (OR = 1.58), and CBCL total score >70 (OR = 1.29). Children with PDD (OR = 0.62), Asperger’s (OR = 0.66), or using medications (0.69) had lower rates.

CONCLUSIONS Children with ASD use more CAM when they have co-existing gastrointestinal symptoms, seizure disorders, and behavior problems. This study suggests the importance of asking about CAM use in children with ASD, especially those with complex symptoms.

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