In a lot of ways, we’re still learning about autism, from what potential causes could be to the best way to handle it in children and adults alike. One interesting correlation that may add some insight into its inner workings is that in the case of children, those with autism are more likely to have gastrointestinal problems, and that the makeup of their gut bacteria has been found to be different than that of neurotypical children.1 At first, this may sound like a simple coincidence, but recent studies on both the brain and gut bacteria suggest that there may be more here than one might think.
The Gut-Brain Axis
You probably already know something about the microbiome. In brief, the human body is home to billions of microorganisms, and the gut is where a large portion of them live – at least, most of the ones that we have studied. What you may not know is that these gut bacteria serve as a bit of a “second brain,” communicating messages to different parts of the body, including the brain.
Many don't realize how strong the connection between our gut and brain actually is. It has a big impact on our lives every day. One example that highlights this connection is when our digestive system is preparing itself, our mouth produces saliva with enzymes subconsciously.
The more we study our microbiome and intestinal environment, the more we understand that an imbalance of intestinal flora can lead to a variety of not only digestive issues, but other issues such as mood swings, attention difficulties, increased stress, sleeplessness, and more.
One thing to note is that this isn’t a one-way street. The gut gives messages to the brain, but also the other way around. So, when we hear about higher levels of gastrointestinal issues in autistic children, it raises the question of whether or not this is a coincidence. The microbiome is affected by what we eat and what is in our environment, and when it is thrown off balance, it can bring about issues. In theory, probiotic supplements help to restore balance.
Supporting Your Gut with Probiotics
There is one study that is especially pertinent to the conversation. One strain of a probiotic actually reduced certain autism-like behaviors in mice, including social behavior and repetitive actions.2 Human trials haven’t gone that far. However, one study on fecal transplants did show that the procedure led to more microbiome diversity. Fecal transplants involve fecal matter being collected from a donor, then strained before placing the material in a patient. This is done primarily to provide a powerful boost of healthy microflora. There is still a lot to understand here, but the more we learn about the connection, the more opportunity we have to try and use probiotics for a variety of health support options.
In addition, there may be other supplemental options that can complement probiotics. We already know from studies of irritable bowel syndrome that when we have difficulty digesting something, it can affect the intestinal flora.3 Some of the most common examples of these for autistic people include heavy gluten and the milk protein casein. Some people try to focus on diets that skip these foods, but another good idea is to try Enzymedica’s GlutenEase™ Extra Strength. This provides enzymes that support the digestion of gluten and casein. Another option is Enzymedica Digest Spectrum™. It's approved by The Autism Hope Alliance to support multiple food intolerances.
A smoother digestive process combined with balanced bacteria means a healthy gut, and that is good news for all parts of your body, including your brain.
- James B Adams, Leah J Johansen, Linda D Powell, David Quig and Robert A Rubin. Gastrointestinal flora and gastrointestinal status in children with autism – comparisons to typical children and correlation with autism severity. BMC Gastroenterology, 2011, 11-22
- Buffington, Shelly A. et al. Microbial Reconstitution Reverses Maternal Diet-Induced Social and Synaptic Deficits in Offspring. Cell , Volume 165 , Issue 7 , 1762 - 1775
- Distrutti E, Monaldi L, Ricci P, Fiorucci S. Gut microbiota role in irritable bowel syndrome: New therapeutic strategies. World J Gastroenterol. 2016;22(7):2219-41.