How Our Family Uses Supplements


Supplements for autism

As a modern society, we have been conditioned to expect a quick fix.  That’s one of the main problems I have with pharmaceutical (and even supplement) advertising, is that it gives people hope and the false expectation that a little pill can cure all their ills.  Event hough it is advertised as such, I have never really seen any of the drugs work that way!

Many of us who are interested in natural medicine can all too easily get caught up in the ‘supplement trap’ of taking a full regimen of supplements with little, no, or even bad effects.  They look so promising lined up on the health food store shelves, at somewhere between $3 and $35/bottle, all the labels making promises and assurances that they too are the answer to our problems, plus they are all natural!

I’m going to share with you the supplements that we have taken and found effective in our family, and how I evaluate if a supplement works for my child with autism.

First, food as a supplement

My first priority is to eat a balanced whole foods diet, and avoid any foods that cause problems.  This means that we don’t skip eating vegetables and then take a vitamin C + fiber pill; we don’t skip eating grassfed meat and drink a protein shake; and we don’t eat processed food and then take a pill for indigestion.  For my daughter with autism, this also means that she stays on the GAPS diet, and really our whole family makes sure we’re on the GAPS diet if we are having any physical issues- we really thrive on this diet.  I feel that eating a good whole foods diet is the biggest and most important step. The book pictured above, Special Needs Kids Go Pharm Free, agrees with me on this point, which is one of the reasons why I like it so much!

Friendly reminder: If you need help sticking with the GAPS or SCD diets, that’s why I made Grain Free Meal Plans!

Second, Make a Plan

I like to know for sure if a supplement is working or not, so I only start one at a time and note changes for a full 30-day time period before introducing another supplement. I’m sure this goes against many protocols given by naturopathic physicians, but I really like to give the minimum amount of supplements to my children, so I want to make sure it’s actually doing something.  I read up on a supplement, find if there is one type that preforms higher than another, and then study the ingredient lists carefully. I usually like the NOW brand supplements, but even with those I have to watch ingredients carefully to make sure they aren’t adding in things that aren’t allowed on the GAPS/SCD diets.

Next I decide on a dose to start, and stick with it for a week and note any changes. After a week I’ll make any doseage adjustments that I think might be needed.  If I see no effect from a supplement after 30 days, I normally discontinue it unless I have a very good reason to keep going on it.

Third, Periodically do a Trial Off Supplements

Especially with my child with autism, I notice that as her body heals and nutrient deficiencies are corrected, she might not require as much of a supplement as she did before.  It’s good to try removing the supplements from the diet and see if they still are effective.

The goal is to correct imbalances and deficiencies, not to be dependent on supplements for health.

I also don’t tell people who work with my child when I’m changing supplements.  I wait to see if they notice something, and if they’ve remarked that she’s changed a few times, then I tell them what I’ve changed.  I think this helps me to evaluate whether something is really working or not.

Warning: All too often I will ‘try going off’ a supplement when the bottle runs out. Bad idea! If our bodies are really benefiting from a supplement, it’s really frustrating to have to wait for a new shipment to come in, or to have to pay double by purchasing at the health food store rather than online.

What We Use and Why

Our family uses more supplements than most, just because we’re dealing with autism.  The supplements in the picture up top are all ones that we’ve tried my daughter on, most of them she is not still on because we didn’t notice any improvement.  I’ll list what we’ve found successful.  I’m not a doctor, not qualified to give medical advice, and cannot recommend any supplements for your family, but based on our results you may want to look into what we’ve found helpful.

Links go to where I purchase our supplements. I choose where to purchase based on cost and quality.

  • L-Carnosine: For emotional regulation for autism. There actually are quite a few studies and articles on this supplement, even a placebo controlled trial. When we first started L-Carnosine I noticed a huge difference and she was taking 3 capsules a day. Now she’s down to one capsule in the morning, but it does help with emotional regulation.
  • B12- injections: This was prescribed by our naturopath.  I think that poor gut flora and gut health is preventing my daughter with ASD from metabolizing B12 correctly. We had tried the sublingual drops before injections and didn’t see any improvement.  When we first started B12 it seemed to cause her to detoxify quickly, so we only did it every few days. After a month she seemed to handle it better and we did every day to every other day, and now she seems to not require it as much and we’re down to once or twice a week. For us B12 has helped with attention deficit type problems- she now can sit still, attend to picture books, etc.
  • Carnitine: For my child with ASD and low tone. I don’t know much about this supplement, but it seems to be working; her OT remarked about how her balance had improved quite a few times during our last session.  The GAPS diet also helped her tone a noticeable amount.
  • Fermented Cod Liver Oil: For essential fatty acids, vitamins A and D.  I don’t compromise on quality with this, I would rather give less of a higher quality fish oil than more of a lower quality one.  We all take this- the kids and I take the liquid (salty cod) and my husband takes the capsules.
  • Good Quality Pr0biotics: I take biokult, and I have actually seen a die off reaction (I get red cheeks from the bad bugs dying and releasing toxins) when I started it. I had my daughter’s stool sample taken and it showed she was only missing one certain type of beneficial bacteria, so she takes lactobacillis from our naturopath’s pharmacy.
  • Digestive enzymes: For my daughter, also based on stool sample results, which showed lots of undigested fat.  She takes 1-2 of these with each meal, depending on fat content.  I am going to have a stool analysis taken in 6 months and see how she is doing with the supplements- this is one of the supplements that I give her even though I don’t see noticeable results.
  • GABA: This is also an amino acid, it helps us process stress. I’m the one who takes this- I tried giving it to my daughter and it didn’t seem to help her at all, so it must react differently in our bodies or else I’m deficient in it and she’s not. It seems to help with anxiety/stress/attention deficit symptoms. At first I took one twice a day, now I take them as needed for stress management- every couple days or so.
  • DLPA: I talked about how we used this to quit coffee a while back.  Ahem, both of us are drinking coffee again- it’s just so warm on these cold winter mornings!  But I’m going to stop again for next summer.  DLPA did allow me to quit it without headaches or feeling like I was in an I-need-coffee haze for weeks.
  • Elderberry Tea: I wrote about elderberry extract for immunity a while back as well.  Now I just use it and make a ‘tea’ by steeping the dried berries in hot water. I like the taste, sometimes I add mint.  For us, I find that if I am diligent about drinking the tea every day when we’ve been exposed to an illness, we either get over it in a day or two or we don’t get it at all.  Elderberry works better for me than echinacea ever did, and it tastes better too.
  • Dandelion Root Tea: For fat digestion and liver detoxification, I give this to my daughter when I can get her to take it. Usually mixed with quite a bit of honey in a sippy cup :)
  • Epsom salt baths for magnesium and sulfur: This helps with the detoxification as well, and the magnesium seems to guard against cramps for those who are prone to them.

When I lined up all the supplements we’ve taken for the picture, it sure looked like a lot! But all of these were added very slowly, and the ones that didn’t work were taken out of the rotation. I just hung on to the bottles in case we needed to try them again down the road.

More Special Needs Reading:

We have found success using these supplements, are there any that you find to be amazingly helpful in your family?

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  1. says

    Thanks for this post.

    I have been waking up in the night pretty regularly. I think I need to increase my serotonin (which converts to melotonin) so I’m going to start taking tryptophan in the afternoon/evening. It will also help me with my cravings for wine and sweets in the evenings.

    I am still drinking coffee in the mornings because I do like something warm — but it is decaf. I really don’t miss the caffeine. I can’t have even one cup of caffeinated coffee or I get heart palpitations. And it will get me hooked again (that happened once before). Amazing to think I used to drink coffee all the time — it is such a powerful drug!

    • Cara says

      Melatonin works great for us, and yes, when I’m well rested I don’t crave sweets either :) I usually sleep pretty well, but sometimes I can’t sleep, so I take melatonin… because no matter what at 5:55 my kids are awake!

      I so totally need to switch to decaf… if only I could convince the person who makes the coffee in this house! :P

  2. Andrea says

    Great article! I recently had my family’s eyes looked at by a naturopath/iridoligist to determine the weaknesses in our bodies. It was very helpful in determining our supplement choices instead of just guessing.

    • Cara says

      That’s really cool! I’ve seen an iridology (?) chart- I looked at it when my first baby was being especially fussy, and it showed a tummy issue, and sure enough the next day *I* came down with a stomach issue, so that’s exactly what her problem was!

  3. Andrea says

    @Ann Marie – our naturopath put us on a liver cleanse for our night wakings. When your liver is overloaded, it often releases bits of sugar in the night that wake you up. Within a couple weeks, we were all sleeping through the night, so it worked for us!

  4. jill says

    This is a great post. Not sure what all to do with it yet. I’m a bit nervous about trying anything. I’m to the point that I don’t even know if I need a multi-vitamin. I’m thinking of starting with a probiotic. So far only the baby takes it. I probably won’t get anyone else in the house to do it.
    Yesterday, sore throat, took extra vitamin C, zinc, echinacia, ate oranges, and took elderberry. Today, I’m fine. Which one worked? Don’t know.
    I almost took an elderberry losenge, but decided to read the ingredients. Thank goodness I did. It had propolis. I’m allergic to bee stings, and I had a horrible reaction to Really Raw Honey. So, looks like raw honey is out of my life unless I can find some way to become unallergic to it.
    So, how this post helps me. Introduces me to other types of supplements, and I agree about taking one at a time, much like introducing a baby to new foods.

    • Cara says

      Jill, if you have good health, you might not need any! I might start with the fermented cod liver oil, unless you eat lots and lots of sea food, if you were looking for a place to start :)

  5. Emily @ Random Recycling says

    Thanks for the suggestion for the elderberry tea. This will be so much faster than making the syrup.

  6. Karen says

    Cara, I would like to start taking a good probiotic. How many of the BioKult do you take a day?
    Did you do the introduction part of the GAPS diet?
    Or did you just go into the full GAPS diet? I got the GAPS book finally and am reading through it. Lots of very good information.
    You do a great job as a mother and you are an encouragement to me. Thanks.

    • Cara says

      I started with 1/2 a day and worked up to two- I still take them, I don’t always remember, but I try to :) I did the GAPS intro and then full GAPS, and now I go off and on, mostly staying on lately :)

  7. Cara says

    Thank you, Cara, for giving your experience with supplements and your recommended books. I will look at your links and consult with a DAN doctor to see what works for my kids. It’s so nice having other moms, like yourself, who are traveling similar journeys to our own and share their wisdom. Thanks for your wonderful blog :)

  8. says

    My son was prescribed OTC iron supplements for anemia, which brought back the constipation we had finally fixed on the SCD diet. (he had the anemia for awhile, the doctors waited for diet to fix it but it didn’t). I had done some research looking for a better way and discovered Lactoferrin. In clinical research it has been used safely with pregnant women, and was just as effective as iron supplemnts but without the gi symptoms. It has also been used safely in neonatal babies. (you can find these in PubMed) Lactoferrin is a type of iron binder the body uses to transport and utilize iron while keeping it away from bacteria. If I recall, I think it’s also found in breastmilk. I noticed I felt perkier on it so we both take it.

  9. Jennifer Richardson says

    Hi Cara, thanks for sharing this info. I find it interesting to see what others are doing for their family. by the way, we take more than that at times — hard to keep up with when there are 5 in our house doing different things.

    had one question — for the L-Carnosine, what do you mean by the “emotional regulation”? I’m wondering if my son could benefit — he’s fine at school, but meltdowns soon after he gets home. He’s undergoing vision therapy now (his eyes weren’t tracking well together — retraining the brain to have them work the way they are supposed to — was having problems with reading comprehension).

    thanks so much!!!

  10. olive says

    Sorry, I think I’m off topic. I love your blog and this is how i found about the soap tooth paste I bought, about the GAPS diet, and natural babies, and now the supplements that helped your family, and I wonder about your autistic daughter. Natural birth, no vaccines i guess, breastfeeding exclusively until 12 months, no ROgham shot. What could have cause it? I wonder because I am scared my daughter may have it and I have done the same things for the benefit of my child.

  11. Analise says

    Hi Cara – Thank you for all you do… I can’t tell you what a resource your site has been for us over the past eight months!

    Long story short, my son (now eight months) was born with major food sensitivities (most profoundly dairy, eggs, and nuts, both in my milk and firsthand), and his reactions take the form of stomach discomfort (initially diagnosed as colic), including throwing up and constipation, poor sleep, and severe eczema. He is breastfed, and our diet is a modified Full Gaps. He has begun limited solid foods (boiled chicken, peas, carrots, avacado, and occasional fruit to suck on).

    I know you can only suggest… But what supplements would you suggest? I am taking Biokult, fermented cod liver oil and a multi – and he is getting a verrrry small amount of the probiotic (he reacts strongly) and on capsule of cod liver oil (Norwegian brand). What would help with his B12? Liver detoxification, etc? Anything you can suggest I should also be taking/doing for him?

    Thank you, thank you, thank you,

    • Cara says

      Your supplements sound good :) That’s pretty much what we do. My daughter doesn’t need the B12 when she’s on a low carb version of GAPS if that helps. I’d really focus on the chicken broth over supplements :) and I think freshed pressed juice should help the liver. Hope that helps! So glad you’re being proactive with your little one, so many would have given up on breastfeeding- kudos to you!

  12. Leonora Alexander says

    Hi cara,
    I am a 59 year old woman who has suffered with fibromyalgia and auto immune for most of my life.i have now presented with rheumatoid arthritis and am in flare at the moment.the doctors have prescribed a cortisone and anti inflammatories former to take.i do not like to take them as the cortisone keeps me awake at night and I get vaginal thrush and candida .i get more constipated when I take the pain killers.i have always had a constipation problem even as a young child.-used to say I have a headache in my tummy.we were brought up on oats with milk and sugar for breakfast everyday,sandwiches for school lunch,more sandwiches at home for lunch and meat rice potatoes and three. Vegetables at night for dinner .we often ate chips and chocolate drank coke a cola and I never felt well…I believe that i was a GAPS child and that i am a GAPS ADULT.i have had every food allergy test sone and eqch time ithe tests come back with a different result. This makes me very confused and extremely distressed.WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW IS HOW DO I START THE PROGRAMME AND WHAT SUPPLEMENTS DO I TAKE FROM THE BEGINNING.
    And would really like to start on the programme I have bought the book But am not sure how to get into the introduction diet. Do I only drink meat stock and nothing else for the first few days or can I add well cooked vegetables from the beginning.

  13. Dolores says

    For digestive enzymes you might try papaya. Frozen in smoothies. Dried or fresh. Also if your body clots to well like mine. Chamomile or 7-keto. I use a large dose of 7-keto to keep clotting down.

  14. says

    I am now not positive the place you are getting your information, however good topic. I must spend a while learning much more or understanding more. Thank you for excellent information I used to be looking for this info for my mission.

  15. Elsje says

    Hi Cara

    Thanks for the post. We also find Rhodiola Rosea helpful for attention and emotional coping, as well as Curcumin when we have minor inflamations.

    Kind regards



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