autism and gut health
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Gut Health and Autism:What We Know

How a Gut Microbe Could Provide a New Tool to Treat Autism..or help Improve Autistic Traits.

To date, a review of more than 150 papers on ASD and gut bacteria found that since the 1960s,  scientists have been reporting links between the composition of the gut and autistic behaviour.

We know the brain and the gut share many of the same neurons and now we’ve confirmed that they also share autism-related gene mutations. Up to 90 percent of people with autism suffer from gut problems, but nobody really knows why.

 Some Behavioural Symptoms or traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD as it is sometimes known, could be linked to bacteria in the gut, suggested by,  growing bodies of evidence. Behavioural delays or symptoms such as speech delay, skills, and levels of disability in functioning including sensory sensitivity, repetitive behaviours and communicating differently on an interpersonal level.

 The microbiome – a group of organisms including bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses that live in the human gut, has been shown to play a significant role in brain function.

Jim Adam’s, a professor and autism researcher at Arizona State University, says “There is a very high correlation between (gastrointestinal) severity and autism severity – for language, for social interaction, for behaviour. Basically all of the core symptoms of autism. Professor Adam’s investigated scientific literature & found that dysbiosis, or a disruption of the normal ecosystem  of bacteria and organisms in the gut, can influence both ASD and GI symptoms.

There are treatments such as Vancomyin, a powerful antibiotic that is not absorbed in the bloodstream but stays in the gut. However these only bring temporary relief for a short period and the body gets used to it.

Over a decade ago, theories based on scientific evidence have begun to emerge of a gut-brain connection, where a dysfunction in the gut could also affect brain activity. Seventy percent of our nerves that go into the central nervous system also go into our gut.

A healthy gut ecosystem contains about a thousand different types of bacteria.(including archaea, fungi & viruses.) The variety of bacteria found in people with ASD is about 25% lower than in healthy people. Their guts seem to be missing hundreds of different species of bacteria, many of which are healthy ones that are important to fermentation and producing short chain fatty acids that influence health. Among children with Autism, GI problems such as constipation and gut pain are common. Some have suspected that imbalances in intestinal bacterial are to blame. Other research suggests that problematic gut bacteria might contribute to autism symptoms by triggering inflammation that reaches the brain.  At the same time, many children with ASD eat only a few foods (selective eating), prefer highly processed foods, and eat fewer fruits, vegetables and whole grains. For these reasons, children with ASD may have nutritionally poor diets and weight related health issues.

 It may also be that healthier microorganisms in the gut may send chemicals to the brain that help children learn and make connections.

As for why children with autism have gastrointestinal problems, and why microbiota transfer therapy (MTT) seems to be effective in treating these..Kids with Autism are lacking important beneficial bacteria, and have fewer ortions in the bacterial menu of important functions that bacteria provide to the gut than typically developing kids.

Professor Adams conducted a small study on the efficiency of fecal transplants in kids 7yrs & older with ASD. His team at Autism/Asperger’s Research Program, studied 18 children, between 7 to 18 with a diagnosis of Autism and significant GI problems. They were treated with an antibiotic vancomycin, to knock down the number of microbes in the gut. Then they received daily doses of purified microbes from the guts of healthy donors, for 10 weeks. 

About half way through the regimen, most participants showed signs of improvement. 16 of the 18 kids had at least 70% improvement in their GI symptoms, and  more importantly, showed improvements in their behavioural symptoms of autism.

According to Dr. Thomas Borody, the gastroenterologist who pioneered MTT, This was a world first discovery when we treated the gut bacteria in these children during our clinical trial 2 years ago to reset their microbiome with a (fecal microbiota transplant), and they are still continuing to  improve 2 years from the original treatment. 58% decline was seen in symptoms tied to gastrointestinal problems, and 45% improvement in measurements related to language, social interaction, and behaviour.  

Researchers & Scientists at RMIT University have discovered the same gene mutation found in the brain and gut,which could be a cause of the link.  Their study reveals a gene mutation that affects neuron communication in the brain, and was the first identified as a cause of autism, also causes dysfunction in the gut. 

While the precise link between the gut microbiome, the brain and autism are not clear yet, there is one thing that’s for certain, there is a strong relationship that affects outcomes and quality of life for people living with autism.

According to many researchers, the GI issues that come with ASD might be due to two factors: firstly, inappropriate immune activation, causing inflammation of the tract, and, secondly, differences in the types of gut bacteria that are present. Some studies have demonstrated that children with ASD have “leaky” guts, meaning that toxins and undigested food are able to cross from the intestine to the bloodstream.

All research completed so far has found a significant body of evidence that reverting the gut microbiota to a healthy state can reduce ASD symptoms. Efforts to restore the gut microbiota to that of a healthy person has shown to be really effective, states Dr. Li of Peking University, China. Their review looked at taking probiotics, prebiotics, changing the diet, for example to gluten and casein free diets, and faecal matter transplants. These all had a positive impact on symptoms such as increased sociability, a reduction in repetitive behaviour, and improved social communication.

If medical researchers like the ASU team can continue to make progress developing a microbiome treatment for ASD, many more kids could benefit from the enormous value of a healthy gut.

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