UPDATED: How Autism affects the Gut-Brain Connection
Updated: Apr 5, 2021
Update: I reached out to Sun Genomics, a company that focuses on customized probiotics. My sons and I provided a sample...a 💩 sample. It wasn't as gross as it sounds. You have to smear the stool over a few different pads and then seal it in a bio-bag. However, the stool can't touch the toilet water so you have to catch it in a hammock thingy that the company provides. Its a weird feeling to go #2 in a bag; it was near impossible to make Cameron (my ASD child) do it. It was weeks of closely watching every time he went into the bathroom so I could jump out of the shadows at the last minute to catch the poo. (The things I do in the name of health, smh). We all sent in our sample and the test results are very interesting. Turns out we have a decent gut biome, despite both Chris and Cam having very limited diets.
The company sent us a months worth of probiotics that meet our individual needs. I've taken mine for almost a month. No issues, but also I haven't seen a large up-tick in energy level or quality of BMs (man, I must really like you guys to tell you all this stuff).
Chris, took his and got a bad stomach ache the first day. Turns out the first 7 pills are more pre-biotics to get your body ready to ingest the pro-biotics. We are going to try again, but this time we are going to half the dose (a little in the morning and a little at night). Cameron hasn't received his batch yet. But I'm very excited for him to start because Sun Genomics is doing an autism study and some of the preliminary findings are very promising.
I interviewed the CEO of Sun Genomics, Sunny Jain. Very smart guy! Had tons to tell us about autism and gut health. Check out the interview here:
Warning: this post is long and sciencey.
So let’s sit back and work through this together…
A literary study (basically a study that goes through tons of other studies to see if there are themes connecting them) was done by the Department of Medicine at the University of Zurich (link to study). This study has some pretty amazing findings. Bottom line, autistic people have some elevated microbials and some decreased microbials in the gut, which affect the integrity of proteins that interact with the brain.
I’ve always known the benefits of gut-health. Your gut is the gatekeeper to all other bodily functions. But I generally assumed if you take a good quality probiotic then you’ll be ok. According to this study, that may not be true because you need a probiotic that has the RIGHT KINDS of bacteria for you! And for people on the spectrum that customize probiotic is even more important.
“A less integrative gut-blood-barrier is abundant in autistic individuals. This explains the leakage of bacterial metabolites into the patients, triggering new body responses or an altered metabolism.” (Journal of Molecular Science)
Basically, your gut is full of tons of different kinds of bacteria, all are needed in a variety of ways and in a variety of amounts to make your gut harmonize. Autistic people overwhelming show an imbalance of this system. This could be the reason for obvious symptoms like stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation, and poor eating habits but it also can affect social behavior and learning disabilities.
The following graph is found in the study:
This graph shows the types of bacteria that are increased (green) and decreased (red) in the gut of over 400 autistic individuals (the black boarders show a significant increase or decrease).
Clostridium spp is shown in a much higher percentage in autistic people. Clostridium is a genus that contains 100s of species. Many species cause our bodies harm but a few have positive properties. An increase in clostridium can cause a neurotoxin which crosses the blood brain barrier (BBB). Once it crosses the BBB it can affect the GABA-producing neurons which then alter our behavior.
What I took away from this study, is that getting a micro-biome test is a good first step to see if you or your child shows any gut abnormalities. General probiotics may not be what YOU need for YOUR gut health. There are a few customized probiotics on the market that claim they are created with the autism community in mind. I am not recommending any particular brand or micro-biome test because I personally have not started down this journey (I will update you as I do). I do think that the evidence is overwhelming that gut health plays a large role for everyone but especially for those on the spectrum and its worth parents putting in the time to research it and come to your own conclusions.
Srikantha, P., & Mohajeri, M. H. (2019). The possible role of the microbiota-gut-brain-axis in autism spectrum disorder. International journal of molecular sciences, 20(9), 2115.
-Dr. Celeste Chamberlain