Study: Could Probiotics Solve the Autism Puzzle?

Caltech researchers successfully use probiotics to treat autistic behavior in mice.

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When journalist Moises Velasquez-Manoff wrote an article for the New York Times in August of last year positing that an immune disorder causes autism, reaction was mixed. On the one hand, his argument seemed so logical, so airtight: He linked the explosion in autism diagnoses to our hyper-clean world, so unlike the virus-and-bacteria-laden environment in which our ancestors lived (and ate). Moms with inflammatory diseases like celiac and rheumatoid arthritis have an increased risk of having autistic kids; so do those who are diagnosed with asthma or allergies in the second trimester and those who contract the flu or have infections. In Velasquez-Manoff’s view, the common culprit is the heightened inflammatory response in the moms, as their self-defense mechanisms, made dysfunctional by lack of practice in fighting microbes, kick into overdrive. (Incidentally, the incidence of asthma, also an inflammatory disease, has risen in parallel to that of autism.)


This theory was challenged by, among others, Michael Yudell of Drexel’s School of Public Health, who called it “reckless” at Philly.com, and health blogger Emily Willingham, who accused the author of “squishy science.” Both Yudell and Willingham worried that pegging autism to a mom’s prenatal health would result in maternal guilt just as surely as the now-discredited “cold mother” causation once did.

Now comes word, via Scienceblog.com, that California Institute of Technology researchers have successfully alleviated autism-like behaviors in mice by giving them a probiotic bacterium, Bacteroides fragilis, used to treat gastrointestinal disorders in animals. Noting that autism and gastrointestinal issues often co-occur, Caltech biology professor Sarkis K. Mazmanian explains, “Traditional research has studied autism as a genetic disorder and a disorder of the brain, but our work shows that gut bacteria may contribute to ASD-like symptoms in ways that were previously unappreciated.” The researchers treated the mice, observed that their GI abnormalities were corrected, and noted that their behavior changed: They became more likely to communicate with other mice, were less anxious, and were less prone to repetitive digging. The researchers hope to begin human trials within the next year or two.

What’s most exciting about the findings, Caltech prof Paul H. Patterson notes, is that such a treatment for autism would be post-natal: “[T]he mother has already experienced the immune challenge, and as a result, the growing fetuses have already started down a different developmental path”—yet their behavioral issues could improve. Mazmanian adds, “I think our results may someday transform the way people view possible causes and potential treatments for autism.”

  • Yalta

    I’m an adult with high-functioning autism (high-functioning NOW, at least, as I was low-functioning when I was little). I wonder what this would do for me. I hope such a probiotic is cheap. I also have gastrointestinal issues (hello, celiac). I doubt that’s a coincidence.
    I hope this probiotic and other autism “cures” don’t destroy the unique personalities of those with high-functioning autism. In a world that is starting to accept and tolerate “nerds” to a greater degree, I’d like to see autistics be accepted into society rather than destroyed.

    • Nona

      Hi, Yalta. We do have an amazing product with powerful probiotics that is helping thousands of people in so many ways. Please contact me for more info. Thanks! Nona :-)

    • Hannah Elise

      You should look into the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet – it’s basically a protocol that removes foods that are difficult to digest and/or that feed the bad gastrointestinal flora (grains, starches, sugars), while adding in probiotic supplements, fermented foods with naturally-occuring good bacteria (yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, beet kvass, etc), and bone broths to encourage healing of the digestive tract.

      I’ve talked with a lot of mamas who have seen improvement in their own health and their children’s health, for things as “small” as eczema all the way up to the autism spectrum. We’re about to start the journey ourselves, as I am a mama diagnosed with non-celiac gluten intolerance whose kiddo has issues digesting food properly and who has sensory processing issues and speech delay. His pediatrician wanted to move toward testing him for PDD when he was in for his two-year wellness checkup, but we didn’t end up going that route.

      All that to say… I’ve heard great things about it, and I’m hoping that it can help our health improve… maybe it can help you, too! :)

      http://gaps.me/preview/?page_id=20 has a lot of good info.

    • AussieBeth

      cultured foods such as kefir are high in probiotics and are natural. Google kefir to learn how to make it for yourself.

    • Bonnie

      Well
      Said. We don’t have so much autism in our family, but adhd on both sides and bipolar in one. I have completely changed our sons diet to feingold, low pesticide, gmo, gluten etc and it is night and day. I tell him his super power is super focus… Because it is true..
      He can hyper
      Focusike those without his special
      Type
      Of brain… I truly think your greates strength can be your greatest weakness and also your greates weakness can be your greatest strength.. It is sad how people cast those that think differently into a negative light

  • Carrie H.

    I’d like to see some brands recommended; I saw a Dr. that prescribed a girl whom I believe was names Mary probiotics for a condition that seemed to be something like bipolar disorder, but failed to mention the exact probiotic. The probiotics choices are overwhelming. :(

    • aubreysrose

      I use Dr. Ohhira’s it is fermented and one of the best on the market. You can get it on Amazon.com

    • Allison

      You don’t need brands. Go online and research how to make kefir at home. Cheap, easy, and an excellent source of probiotics.

  • bkrisp

    I agree with the kefir recommendations here for probiotics. I used to try to drink store bought dairy kefir which always concluded with excessive bloating. Once I bought online a very small packet of kefir grains, I made my own with spring water and rapadura sugar (about a gallon per batch), I drank it consistently throughout the day and it was the most alive and energetic I had ever felt. Cultured yogurts and capsules had no effect in comparison to water kefir.

  • Bonnie

    Look up feingold.org and a gluten free, preservative free, food
    Coloring free, low pesticide and low gmo diet. It has done wonders for my prediagnosed adhd son. All of his teachers had trouble with him… Now he is in accelerated classes and at the top of the class in reading. Look it up. People medicate too frequently for
    A problem caused by unnatural items that are affecting sensitive people… It is only aggravated by adding more chemicals. I can’t speak for everyone andninundrtsatnd my case is anecdotal… But look it up… Especially if you have a young one suffering from adhd or autism. Good luck!!