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Autism and Diabetes: Is there a connection?

The number of people with a diagnosis of autism continues to increase worldwide. At the same time, due to poor independent living skills, employment, or adequate education, the population of autism has poor outcomes. More importantly, the risk of premature mortality in people with autism is quite elevated (1.5 fold to eightfold increased risk ) when compared to the general population.

Type 2 diabetes in adolescents and young adults is higher in autism than the general population. Nutrition is critical not only to improve brain function, focus, or concentration but also to diminish the risk of diabetes. The parents have to start early to improve the intake of healthy foods in children with autism. Understandably, children with autism are picky eaters and love sugar, but when they start looking at the parents eating healthier, they learn and adapt.

Also, the use of medications like risperidone or aripiprazole (antipsychotics), approved by the FDA for autism, is associated with a significant risk of obesity and diabetes. There is a clear connection between the use of antipsychotic medications and diabetes or obesity. The use of these medications is suggested to be short-term and not long-term due to these severe side effects.

What Can We Do?

1) There is a need to educate families affected by autism about the power of nutrition. Without a doubt, nutrition can benefit the autism community. There are several deficiencies present in autism that can be addressed by supplementation or diet that are crucial for an optimal brain function.

2) Also, parents of children with autism need to be aware that long-term antipsychotic medications have severe side effects like obesity and diabetes. They have to work with the primary care physician, nutrition expert, and therapist to look for ways to diminish the use of these medications in this community. In fact, in a meta-analysis done in 2016, several physicians recommended that antipsychotic drugs be used judiciously and for the shortest time possible in the youth due to the severe side effects.

"When you believe that something is impossible, your mind will work hard to demonstrate that it is impossible."

David Schwartz

If you believe that is possible, new ideas will start to come to your mind on how to improve nutrition in children and adults with autism.

There is hope for Autism!

David Rivas, RPh, MSc, CCN

Pharmacist and Clinical Nutritionist/Consultant


Chen, M. H., Lan, W. H., Hsu, J. W., Huang, K. L., Su, T. P., Li, C. T., ... & Chen, Y. S. (2016). Risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder: a nationwide longitudinal study. Diabetes Care, 39(5), 788-793.

Galling, B., Roldán, A., Nielsen, R. E., Nielsen, J., Gerhard, T., Carbon, M., ... & Kahl, K. G. (2016). Type 2 diabetes mellitus in youth exposed to antipsychotics: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 73(3), 247-259.

Hirvikoski, T., Mittendorfer-Rutz, E., Boman, M., Larsson, H., Lichtenstein, P., & Bölte, S. (2016). Premature mortality in autism spectrum disorder. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 208(3), 232-238.

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