Some really groovy things have been happening in autism research these last few years and I’m going to share them as my contribution to Autism Awareness Month. I’m a giver that way.
What kinds of cool things?
- A few years ago, researchers stumbled on gut bacteria, or lack thereof, as a contributing factor in autistic-like behaviors. Atlantic Monthly had another interesting article on this topic: When Gut Bacteria Changes Brain Function. (Also, see my article below.)
- Last year, Mental Health Daily published an article about the clinical trials testing new drugs for autism.
- Earlier this year, Science Daily reported on a region in the brain that contains mutated genes that have been tied to autism.
This is pretty heady stuff for the families of autistic individuals. Answers and new therapies are always wished for and welcomed.
I wrote an article for Guardian Liberty Voice a while back about the connection between gut bacteria and ASD:
After all the years and studies, it’s looking like the key to autism might be located in the gut. Several new studies are pointing to inflammation, particularly in the gut, as a significant factor in the cause of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Not only are study results showing that probiotics decrease the inflammation and that they’re alleviating autistic-like symptoms in laboratory mice, the National Institutes of Health has found that the balance of organisms in the digestive tract, often called the microbiome, is key for healthy infant development.
Human microbiomes are made up of trillions of microbes. In addition to the usual genetic information babies inherit from their parents, scientists have discovered they also inherit the genetics of both parents’ microbiomes. This is huge news.
How does microbiome development work?
Just before birth, a fetus begins to populate healthy bacteria in their gut. Before this time, the womb is sterile. Scientists believe that the current higher rate of C-section births and maternal ingestion of antibiotics can disrupt microbiome formation in the infant’s digestive tract.
It was also determined that breastfed babies show a lower incidence of ADHD. Many autism researchers recommend that new mothers breastfeed, if they are able, as a strategy to prevent the development of ASD. These same researchers believe that the destruction of natural flora in infants and young children, through the use of antibiotics, contributes to the development of ASD and ADHD.
Why do the studies think “the gut” is the answer?
The microbiomes of autistic individuals are different, and researchers believe they are contributing to the disorder. Currently, autism is treated via various types of behavior therapy. Based on these new findings, early and consistent treatment with probiotics, which contain “friendly” bacteria helpful to gastrointestinal function may be at least as helpful.
Recent studies have shown that up to 90 percent of autistic children have gastrointestinal problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that children with autism are more than three times as likely to suffer from chronic constipation or diarrhea, as compared to their peers without autism.
What foods are “naturally probiotic” and why would they help?
Probiotics occur naturally in foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi and pickles. Researchers are suggesting that ingestion of these foods be increased by everyone, but particularly by individuals with autism and their immediate family members.
The result of a test reported in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition found that intestinal permeability (IPT), also known as “leaky gut,”is significantly higher in patients with autism and their first-degree relatives.
The IPT of “normal” patients was 4.8% versus the much higher IPT values found in the autistic patients and their families, 36.7% and 21.2% respectively. The study also noted that 46.7% of children with autism experienced gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain and constipation.
Researchers firmly believe that administering probiotics will, at the very least, decrease the inflammation that can affect cognitive and social development as well as language. Whether the probiotics would more effective when delivered via dietary changes or via pharmaceutical probiotics has not yet been tested.
Current recommended dosage for autistic or ADHD children who experience gastrointestinal symptoms is a probiotic containing 15 to 30 billion healthy microorganisms every day.
Caltech biology professor, Paul Patterson, believes that if the gastrointestinal issues are alleviated in autistic children, their behavioral issues will be stabilized, and will be easier to treat. Another Caltech researcher, Elaine Hsiao, piggybacked off an earlier discovery that women who get through flu during pregnancy have double the risk of birthing a child with autism.
Hsiao injected pregnant mice with a mock virus, resulting in babies that exhibited autistic behavior: anxiety, obsessive grooming and aloofness from the other mouse pups. Those “autistic” mice developed the aforementioned leaky gut, which is often seen in autistic children.
When Hsiao took blood from these “autistic” pups, their samples contained 46 times more of a particular gut bacterial molecule than the non-autistic pups, indicating the bacteria was leaking into their bloodstream. When Hsiao injected healthy mice with this same molecule, they became more anxious.
After adding a probiotic, targeted to GI problems, into to the mice’s’ food, Hsiao saw several positive results within five weeks: the leaky gut sealed up, their levels of the bacterial molecule had plummeted and their gut microbiomes more closely resembled the healthy mice.
Most astonishing to the researchers was the mice’s behavior. They stopped their obsessive behavior, became more vocal and were much less anxious. They did remain aloof but the other behavior disappeared. The underlying message from all these studies: don’t underestimate the power and importance of gut bacteria. John Cryan, at University College Cork, believes that “gut microbes are as important as the nerve cells of the brain.”
For families dealing with the symptoms of autism, alleviation of some of those symptoms from probiotics would be an enormous relief. If I ever have another baby, I’m giving them probiotics from the starting gate.
In case you wanted to watch that TED Talk…
Also, Del-Immune V has collected more than 50 articles about the link between “the gut” and autism on their blog (fabulous resource!).
What’s up with that Puzzle Piece Ribbon?
Do you deal with autism in your life? Have you found any foods that affect behavior? What do you think of these studies? Enquiring minds LOVE to know your thoughts here at More Cowbell!