Autism & Digestive Health
People with autism often have more digestive health problems than average. 1 in 4 children with autism are thought to have at least one chronic gastrointestinal symptom1 and numerous studies have discovered abnormal digestive health conditions in people with autism2,3. Autistic children have also been found to have more Clostridia in the gut than children without autism4 and a recently published study5 found a little known bacterial genus called Sutterella present in microbiota in just over half the participants with autism, but in none of those without autism.
Some research suggests that microorganisms support digestive health in adults and children. So could live cultures help children or adults with autism?
Immunity Inflammation And Asd
Microbial dysbiosis in autism is an important area of study if a cure for the disorder is to be found. Due to the complex nature of the disorder, existing studies determine associations rather than causal effects. For example, a study by Rose and colleagues compared the microbiota and immune responses of typically developing children with and without GIS, and children with autism with and without GIS . Results showed that, following toll-like receptor stimulation, the autism group with GIS had higher levels of cytokines including IL-5, IL-15, and IL-17 compared to the autism group that were not presenting with GIS. Moreover, it was found that the production of regulatory cytokine TGF1 was lower in the autism group with GIS than both groups not presenting with GIS. The same study also found differences in the microbiome composition of children with GIS in the autism and typically developing groups . Similar results were found by Luna and colleagues, who showed that while Clostridiales levels were higher in the group with autism and GIS, there were low levels of Dorea and Blautia, as well as Sutterella in this cohort. This dysbiosis correlated with abdominal pain, along with the imbalance of specific cytokines in this group. It was also found that metabolites like tryptophan and cytokine IL6 showed the highest levels in the autism group with abdominal pain .
Efficacy: Secondary Exploratory Analyses On Gi And Ngi Parallel Arms
One of the original aims of this study was to evaluate the effects of probiotics on ASD core symptoms, GI symptoms, and plasma and fecal inflammatory biomarkers in ASD children with and without GI symptoms. For this purpose the randomization was made independently in the GI and NGI groups, to obtain four parallel arms. At the end of recruitment, the sample size of each arm did not reach the target already determined for the whole sample the GI group, already less numerous, was also affected by a bigger drop-out rate than the NGI one. Therefore, secondary exploratory analyses among subgroups were performed. The four parallel arms were well balanced for the total number of hours of rehabilitative treatments .
In the NGI group we found a significant decrease both in the primary outcome measure, Total ADOS-CSS scores , and in Social-Affect ADOS-CSS .
In the GI group, statistically significant effects were found in GI symptoms , and in adaptive functioning for which probiotic therapy was associated with greater improvements than placebo . In addition, in the GI group a significantly higher proportion of children in the probiotic group than in placebo group showed a normalization of Sensory Profile scores in the Multisensory Processing subscale : the scores improved in 87% vs 28%, respectively, and got worse in 0% vs 42%, respectively .
Table 3 Efficacy Measures with Significant Changes from Baseline to 6-Months in the Subgroups.
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The Importance Of Lactobacillus Reuteri In Autism
Lactobacillus reuteri is a bacteria strain commonly found in probiotics autism treatment.
While most probiotics improve gut problems, Lactobacillus reuteri has been observed also to improve social behavior in autism.
A study conducted by Mauro Costa-Mattioli of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas revealed that social behavior among experiment mice normalized and was similar to those of control mice after taking L. reuteri. This is because this specific strain increases oxytocin, also referred to as the love hormone.
As such, kids with autism who have this strain on their gut microbiome may experience improved moods and social interactions, making it beneficial for many people with ASD and other behavioral and autism-like symptoms.
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Which Probiotics Are Best For Autism
When looking for autism probiotics, the research is pretty limited. Many of the studies done have been poorly designed, but there is some evidence showing that Lactobacillus Acidophilus may lead to an improvement in mental concentration in kids with autism. There is also plenty of evidence of specific probiotics being beneficial for the improvement of gut health in children with inflammatory bowel disease , which is common in children with autism. Strains like L. rhamnosus GG, L. reuteri, and bifidobacterium have been helpful in achieving gut health in children with IBD. Saccharomyces boulardii is another probiotic to look for – it has been shown to help with OCD, which can be a common occurrence in autism.
Since the gut is home to thousands of types of bacteria, and the key to gut health is to balance our gut bacteria, the most important factor in finding an effective probiotic is to choose one with a wide variety of strains, including those mentioned above. The good news is, almost all GI symptoms reported to be a problem in ASD have shown improvement with probiotics . So, how do you choose the right probiotic for your child? Well look at that next.
Probiotics And Treatment For Autism The Study
As outlined by a recently available study conducted in Houston, Texas by the Baylor College of Medicine , gut bacteria may help to ease the symptoms of Autism.
The study, experimented with mice that were genetically programmed to develop versions of autism spectrum disorders. As a result of the generated mutation, they developed social deficits and hyperactivity symptoms, similar to those observed in autism spectrum disorders . They also developed changes in the bacteria in the gut that make up their microbiome. This problem also observed in many people with ASD.
As part of the experiment, the group of scientists fed mice with a probiotic microbe known as Lactobacillus reuteri in order to moderate the gut balance. They did regulate the gut balance but also resulted in the modulation of the brain. The researchers performed different tests and also found a second way to modulate the brain in a similar way, by administrating the mice with a metabolite compound produced in the gut by L. reuteri itself.
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Nicholas Undergoes A Session Of Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy
Another parent, Corinne Yeo, tried to start her ten-year-old son on probiotics last year, but she said it did not work out.
My son has very sensitive taste buds so he only drinks ice cold water, she said. We bought tasteless, odourless and colourless probiotics, but hes so sensitive he can detect them even when we mix in very small amounts into his water, and he would refuse to drink it.
She added that she recently decided to try again, and was surprised when her son started taking the probiotics. She has, however, not seen any effects so far.
DOING EVERYTHING THEY CAN
For parents like Mrs Yee and Mdm Yeo, the experimentation with probiotics is but one small part of their overall efforts at managing their childrens autism. And it does not come cheap.
Mrs Yee spends about S$5,000 a month on things ranging from therapy, biomedical treatment to ordering probiotics online. She had also tried out speech therapy when Nicholas was first diagnosed, but found that it was not very effective.
Nonetheless, she says it is money well spent.
Its costly to maintain all these expenses but I think its essential, she explained. To me, these are critical interventions that parents can do to help a child who is delayed in his development.
She added that the improvements she has seen in her son over the years are significant. When he was younger, I would never have dreamed than my son would be able to cope with the mainstream curriculum, but here he is now.
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The B Fragilis Strain And Autism
Bacteroides fragilis, also known as B. fragilis, may be helpful to children with autism, according to a study conducted in California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The study discovered that B. fragilis has a unique ability to penetrate even the most hostile mucus layers and embed itself into the intestines cells.
Research lead Paul Patterson states that B. fragilis treated leaky gut in mice tested. The experiment group also became more vocal and less anxious and obsessive, which are common behaviors found in autism.
It is important to note, however, that B. fragilis is not commercially available, and more studies need to be conducted before it can be offered to the public as treatment.
How Do Probiotics Work
Researchers are trying to figure out exactly how probiotics work. Some of the ways they may keep you healthy:
When you lose “good” bacteria in your body, for example after you take antibiotics, probiotics can help replace them.
They can help balance your “good” and “bad” bacteria to keep your body working the way it should.
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Best Powder: Culturelle Kids Daily Probiotic Packets
If youre familiar with adult probiotics, you likely know the brand Culturelle. The popular probiotic brand makes a fantastic probiotic powder for kids. For those children who dont like to chew gummies or tablets, powder is an easy way to add probiotics to their favorite cool beverage or food. In fact, Culturelle probiotic packets are tasteless, so your child shouldnt even notice them.
The convenient single-serve packets are free of gluten, dairy, peanuts, added colors, preservatives, yeast, and soy, so theyre ideal for kids with allergies or sensitivities. They’re best for toddlers and children over the age of 12 months.
Vitamin B6 And Magnesium
Vitamin B6 is responsible for enhancing over 60 different biological processes in the body. Vitamin B6 is found in typical multivitamins, but can also be supplemented.
This vitamin is broken down in the body by an enzyme , and some research suggests this enzyme is not as effective in children with autism. The PLP enzyme is needed for the proper production of dopamine in the body, which helps control the brains reward centers.
Magnesium is also a vital nutrient, ensuring proper functioning of the brain and muscle cells. Magnesium is found in many foods, especially seeds and nuts, whole grains, and leafy vegetables.
Some studies have indicated that children with autism may have a magnesium deficiency, though the specific cause of this is still unknown.
Vitamin B6 and magnesium are typically supplemented together, as B6 can sometimes cause unpleasant symptoms, such as upset stomach, and the magnesium appears to counteract this.
Research is varied when it comes to the effectiveness of these supplements for children with ASD. Two small, but well-controlled studies found no effects of combined Vitamin B6 and magnesium therapy. Another larger, but less rigorous study found an increase in positive behavior in children who took these supplements.
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The Link Between Autism And Gastrointestinal Disorders
In one study evaluating nearly 3,000 children with autism, researchers found as many as 24% had chronic GI problems, most commonly constipation and abdominal pain. Those children also had higher rates of anxiety and over-sensitivitya problem made much worse when the child had more than one GI challenge.
When one takes a closer look at the microbes in the gut, children with autism appear to have different proportions of bacteria species than neurotypical children. In fact, one study found the proportions of common bacteria types differed significantly.
Members of our research team have also seen similar evidence, including a decrease in the amount of healthy Faecalibacteria bacteria in the stool of children with autism.
Weve also seen that a mixture of healthy bacteria, taken as a powder mixed with food, can restore those healthy bacteria in patients with GI disorders. In fact, it appears to restore healthy levels for a range of bacteria.
How Do Probiotics Support Gut Health
Probiotics should help to replenish your gut bacteria, or microbiome, so you are healthier overall.
While they are generally safe when taken as directed, probiotics are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration , so some of the claims manufacturers make are not supported by scientific evidence.
If your child has autism, you may consider adding probiotics to their daily routine to support their gut health. People with autism often have gastrointestinal issues, and the link is not fully understood, but digestive health seems to impact some behaviors associated with autism.
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What Every Parent Should Know If They Have A Child With Autism
Ten years ago, university researchers might have been laughed out of the room for suggesting that soluble fiber intake may improve these common issues
About 1 in 59 children in the U.S. has been identified1 with autism spectrum disorder . Most of these children also have chronic digestive issues2 including constipation and leaky gut because their good gut bacteria are out of balance. Frustratingly, these gut disorders often contribute to a childs irritability.
Scientists are now finding that a simple dietary change such as increasing soluble fiber intake may improve both constipation and irritability in children with ASD.
What lives in our gut affects our mood and behavior
What your gut tells your brain and vice versa is part of what scientists call the gut/brain axis. The good bacteria in your gut create most of the serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters responsible for your mood, explains nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott, Ph.D.
Autism is one of the classic gut/brain dysfunction diseases. When the gut has an imbalance of the wrong kinds of bacteria, it sends improper signals to the brain. That can show up as irritability. So, the question is: How can we change the bacteria in the gut so the child feels and behaves better?
Nutritional research is leading us in a surprising new direction
Keep learning about the gut/brain axis by visiting www.DocTalbott.com.
Below Are Our Dosage Suggestions:
- Start with one child scoop of the probiotic powder first thing in the morning on empty stomach.
- Dissolve the powder in a glass of dechlorinated water and drink it.
- Stay at this dosage for about 3 days.
- If you do not see any improvement in symptoms, you can raise the dosage to one scoop in the morning and one scoop at bedtime.
- After 3-5 days, if you are not happy with the results, you can go up in dosage to 2 scoops AM and 2 scoops PM a day.
- You can go to higher dosages as well, IF need be.
- Have your childs breakfast after about 30 minutes from the time of taking probiotics.
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Testing A New Approach
Members of our team have already studied stool and mucous microbiome communities in children with autism, and evaluated the same probiotic mix for treating irritable bowel syndrome. For our upcoming study, following the pilot we are currently doing, we will evaluate the probiotics impact on easing GI symptoms in kids with autism, and how well it helps control their anxiety and over-sensitivity to stimuli. We hope to treat 60 children, aged 3 to 12, divided among three institutions. To our knowledge, the study will be the first to evaluate probiotics as a treatment for both physical and emotional conditions in children with autism.
Autism is a complex and challenging condition, with multiple, interconnected symptoms. However, we are hopeful that probiotics and a better understanding of the microbiome will help patients overcome some of autisms most pervasive impacts, improving quality of life for patients and their parents.
This article was featured in Issue 62 Motherhood: An Enduring Love
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Are Probiotics Covered Under Fsa
Yes, FSA may cover probiotics. However, this is only possible if a medical professional certifies that your child needs probiotics for treating her gastrointestinal problems.
The doctor will have to provide a Letter of Medical Necessity and details like what the probiotic will be treating and for how long. If the treatment is long-term, you need to procure the LMN again for every year you use the probiotics.
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