B6 (and magnesium) in the Treatment of Autism
Autism Research Institute
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San Diego, CA 92116
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All 18 studies known to me in which vitamin B6
has been evaluated as a treatment for autistic children have
provided positive results. This is a rather remarkable record,
since the many drugs that have been evaluated as treatments
for autism have produced very inconsistent results. If a drug
shows positive results in about half of the evaluation
studies, it is considered a success and the drug is then
advocated for use with autistic patients. However, despite the
remarkably consistent findings in the research on the use of
vitamin B6 in the treatment of autism, and despite its being
immeasurably safer than any of the drugs used for autistic
children, there are at present very few practitioners who use
it or advocate its use in the treatment of autism.
Research on the use of vitamin B6 with autistic
children began in the 1960s. In 1966 two British neurologists,
A. F. Heeley and G. E. Roberts, reported that 11 of 19
autistic children excreted abnormal metabolites in their urine
when given a tryptophan load test. Giving these children a
single 30 mg tablet of vitamin B6 normalized their urine;
however, no behavioral studies were done. A German
investigator, V. E. Bonisch, reported in 1968 that 12 of 16
autistic children had shown considerable behavioral
improvement when given high dosage levels (100 mg to 600 mg
per day) of vitamin B6. Three of Bonisch’s patients spoke for
the first time after the vitamin B6 was administered in this
open clinical trial.
After my book Infantile Autism was
published in 1964, I began receiving hundreds of letters from
parents of autistic children throughout the United States,
including a number who had tried the then-new idea of
“megavitamin therapy” on their autistic children. Most had
begun experimenting with various vitamins on their autistic
children as a result of reading books by popular nutrition
writers. I initially was quite skeptical about the remarkable
improvement being reported by some of these parents, but as
the evidence accumulated, my interest was aroused. A
questionnaire sent to the 1,000 parents then on my mailing
list revealed that 57 had experimented with large doses of
vitamins. Many of these had seen positive results in their
children. As a result, I undertook a large-scale study, on
over 200 autistic children, of megadose quantities of vitamin
B6, niacinamide, pantothenic acid, and vitamin C, along with a
multiple-vitamin tablet especially designed for the study. The
children were living with their parents throughout the U.S.
and Canada, and each was medically supervised by the family’s
own physician. (Over 600 parents had volunteered for the
study, but most could not overcome their physicians’
At the end of the four-month trial it was clear
that vitamin B6 was the most important of the four vitamins we
had investigated, and that in some cases it brought about
remarkable improvement. Between 30% and 40% of the children
showed significant improvement when the vitamin B6 was given
to them. A few of the children showed minor side effects
(irritability, sound sensitivity and bed-wetting), but these
quickly cleared up when additional magnesium was supplied, and
the magnesium confirmed additional benefits.
Two years later two colleagues and I initiated
a second experimental study of the use of megavitamin therapy
on autistic children, this time concentrating on vitamin B6
and magnesium. My co-investigators were Professors Enoch
Callaway of the University of California Medical Center at San
Francisco and Pierre Dreyfus of the University of California
Medical Center at Davis. The double-blind placebo-controlled
crossover experiment utilized 16 autistic children, and again
produced statistically significant results. For most children
dosage levels of B6 ranged between 300 mg and 500 mg per day.
Several hundred mg/day of magnesium and a multiple-B tablet
were also given, to guard against B6-induced deficiencies of
these other nutrients. (In all probability, the temporary
numbness and tingling resulting from B6 megadoses, reported by
Schaumburg et al., were the result of induced deficiencies of
other nutrients caused by taking B6 alone in enormous
amounts—a foolish thing to do.)
In both studies the children showed a
remarkably wide range of benefits from the vitamin B6. There
was better eye contact, less self-stimulatory behavior, more
interest in the world around them, fewer tantrums, more
speech, and in general the children became more normal,
although they were not completely cured.
People vary enormously in their need for B6.
The children who showed improvement under B6 improved because
they needed extra B6. Autism is thus in many cases a
vitamin B6 dependency syndrome.
After completing his participation in our
study, Professor Callaway visited France, where he persuaded
Professor Gilbert LeLord and his colleagues to undertake
additional B6/magnesium research on autistic children. The
French researchers, although skeptical that anything as
innocuous as a vitamin could influence a disorder as profound
as autism, became believers after their first, reluctantly
undertaken, experiment on 44 hospitalized children. They have
since published six studies evaluating the use of vitamin B6,
with and without additional magnesium, on autistic children
and adults. Their studies typically used as much as a gram a
day of vitamin B6 and half a gram of magnesium.
LeLord and his colleagues measured not only the
behavior of the autistic children, but also their excretion of
homovanillic acid (HVA) and other metabolites in the urine.
Additionally, they have done several studies in which the
effects of the vitamin B6 and/or the magnesium on the brain
electrical activity of the patients was analyzed. All
of these studies have produced positive results.
LeLord et al. recently summarized their results
on 91 patients: 14% improved markedly, 33% improved, 42%
showed no improvement, and 11% worsened. They noted that “in
all our studies, no side effects were observed….” Presumably,
no physical side effects were seen.
Several recent studies by two groups of U.S.
investigators, Thomas Gualtieri et al., at the University of
North Carolina, and George Ellman et al., at Sonoma State
Hospital in California, have also shown positive results on
While no patient has been cured with the
vitamin B6 and magnesium treatment, there have been many
instances where remarkable improvement has been achieved. In
one such case an 18-year-old autistic patient was about to be
evicted from the third mental hospital in his city. Even
massive amounts of drugs had no effect on him, and he was
considered too violent and assaultative to be kept in the
hospital. The psychiatrist tried the B6/magnesium approach as
a last resort. The young man calmed down very quickly. The
psychiatrist reported at a meeting that she had recently
visited the family and had found the young man to now be a
pleasant and easy-going young autistic person who sang and
played his guitar for her.
Another example: a frantic mother phoned me to
ask for information on sheltered workshops in her city, since
her 25-year-old autistic son was about to be expelled for
unmanageable behavior. I knew of no alternate placements for
the son, but I suggested that the mother try Super Nu-Thera, a
supplement containing B6, magnesium and other nutrients.
Within a few weeks she called again to tell me excitedly that
her son was doing very well now and his piecework pay had
risen dramatically from the minimum pay of $1.50 per week to
$25 per week.
In view of the consistent findings showing the
safety and efficacy of the nutrients B6 and magnesium in
treating autistic individuals, and in view of the
inevitability of short and/or long-term side effects of drug
use, it certainly seems that this safe and rational approach
should be tried before drugs are employed.
This article appeared in the Autism Research
Review International, Vol. 1 (4), 1987. The Autism
Research Review International is a quarterly newsletter
published by the Autism Research Institute (4182 Adams Avenue,
San Diego, CA 92116, U.S.A.).
The Autism Research Institute
distributes an information packet on
vitamins, allergies, and nutritional
treatments for autism. Click
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