Probiotics and Autism
Best Probiotics for Autism
Many autism experts claim several types of foods and diets can treat children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some autism researchers also believe there is a strong link between the functioning of the brain and the gut. But with the very large number of foods and recommended diets out there, how can you determine what works best for all family members with autism? In this article, we discuss various theories as well as the effectiveness of diets and probiotics, the so-called “friendly bacteria,” in helping ease the symptoms of autism. Let’s look at the relation between probiotics and autism.
What is the Possible Cause?
Stomach issues are a familiar problem for children with autism. In their study on autism, researchers led by Dr. Paul Ashwood of the University of California, Davis’ Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute identified proofs linking autism with changes in the brain, gastrointestinal (GI) distress, immune dysfunction, and severe repetitive behaviors. According to Dr. Ashwood, they found that children with autism have elevated levels of dendritic cells. These cells are the ‘generals’ of the immune system. Ashwood said the dendritic cells serve a key role in the body’s immune response to microorganisms, including disease-causing germs and normal digestive bacteria.
Several other scientists, meanwhile, have discovered more multiple are genetic changes or mutations linked with autism. They also found an intricate and different combination of genetic risk and environmental factors affecting the early brain development of a child that further increase his/her risk of developmental delays or autism.
Among the most discussed theories include:
- Environmental risk factors
- Advanced age of both father and mother at the time of conception
- Low birth weight
- Maternal illness during pregnancy
- Extreme prematurity of birth
- Difficulties during birth, particularly the times in which the baby’s brain is deprived of oxygen.
Autism, Probiotics and Digestive Health
Studies show that people with autism often have abnormal digestive health conditions. One example would be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Kids with autism were found to have an elevated number of the pathogenic bacteria called Clostridia. A lesser-known bacteria called Sutterrella is also present in their guts. Meanwhile, some studies show that probiotic microorganisms have positive effects on the digestive health of both adults and children. These healthy microorganisms are in probiotics supplements. These might treat ASD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), particularly in children.
The US Department of Health (DOH) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) say that gut health and autism have a connection. According to the agencies, the postnatal development of a child depends on the microbiome. There must be a balance of organisms in the digestive tract. Every child should have a healthy gut for several reasons, including proper immune function, regulating inflammation, and healthy development.
To achieve a healthy gut, the thousands of strains of good bacteria should live in balance with the “bad bacteria.” In the event bad bacteria outnumbers good bacteria in the gut, acondition called dysbiosis occurs. Researchers consider the presence of an unhealthy gut as a causative factor of ASD and ADHD.
A 2017 study at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Nisonger Center showed children with autism have a low amount of healthy Faecalibacteria bacteria in their stools. This finding is somewhat similar to the results of various studies showing a reduced number of microbes in the gut of autistic kids. However, the study also showed the appropriate amount of healthy bacteria in people with autism is restored when consuming a mixture of bacteria. These bacteria can be ingested as a powder mixed with food. The researchers are scheduled to assess the effectiveness of probiotics in relieving GI symptoms in autistic kids as well as its efficacy in controlling the children’s anxiety and oversensitivity to stimuli.
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The Autism-Gut-Brain Connection
For years scientists have acknowledged that many disorders, illnesses, and diseases are likely linked to the gut-brain connection. Autism has recently been added to this growing list of disorders heavily affected by the gut-neuro feedback loop.
The familiar stomachache that comes with nervousness is an example of the brain affecting the gut, but the gut, in turn, affects the brain. Researchers suspect an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy gut bacteria might be contributing to symptoms of autism.
Leaky gut syndrome
This is also considered a risk factor for children with autism who have gut problems. While leaky gut is not well understood, it is currently defined as abnormal intestinal permeability. In children with autism, leaky gut symptoms might include constipation, bloating, excess gas, diarrhea, nutritional deficiencies, allergies, and exasperation of behavioral challenges. Leaky gut can cause a disruption in the gut-brain feedback loop.
The gut-brain connection, autism, and the use of probiotics are being further studied at Arizona State University Biodesign Institute. The study showed a link between the chemicals produced by gut bacteria and the behavior of kids with autism. In their study, scientists examined the bacterial waste products in the stool samples of children with ASD.
They found substantially diverse concentrations of seven of the 50 chemical compounds identified in the samples. According to study co-author Dae-Wook Kang, the majority of gut bacteria are good as they help in food digestion, production of vitamins, and protection against harmful bacteria. However, if not effectively prevented, the harmful bacteria can release toxic metabolites or disturb a balance in metabolites that can affect not only the gut but the entire body, including the brain. This autism gut bacteria theory is still being tested, but so far it is proving valid when tested on mice.
Meanwhile, researchers at the Texas Children’s Hospital Microbiome Center in Houston have identified a link between the intestinal microbiome of gut bacteria and GI distress and behavioral issues in children with ASD. One key finding is the stool samples from autistic children contained four organisms previously associated with ASD. The organisms are the Sarcina ventriculi, Barnesiella intestihominis, Clostridium bartlettii, and Clostridium bolteae.
Another notable finding is the presence of the bacterium Haemophilus parainfluenzae in the stool of a child with autism during a three-day period in which the child experienced diarrhea, GI pain, and several challenging behaviors, including self-injury. The results of the study were presented by the center’s microbial geneticist Ruth Ann Luna at the 2016 International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR).
The Gluten-Free and Casein-Free Diet
Moreover, medical experts like Dr. Kenneth A. Bock have supported theories linking gut health, brain activity, and autism. Dr. Bock stressed the importance of maintaining the balance of the metabolically-active microorganisms in the gut to avoid dramatic neurobehavioral effects on individuals, particularly in people with ASD. He also recommended a change in the diet of people with autism to ensure the complete digestion of the food consumed. He particularly cited gluten and casein-rich foods.
These foods should be avoided because they are not completely digested. He claimed gluten and casein create endogenous opioids, or brain-active compounds, similar to morphine. These compounds may have major effects on brain activity, resulting in unresponsive and inappropriate behaviors in autistic individuals. To prevent these behaviors, Dr. Bock suggested the gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet as a first phase of treatment for people with autism. He further advised the change in diet should be based on the condition of the individual.
How probiotics and diet help treat digestive concerns like IBS
Proper diet and gut health maintenance may be effective in controlling the symptoms of autism, as well as some GI issues in children with autism such as IBS, a digestive disorder affecting the large intestine. Among the common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating.
IBS happens due to gastrocolic reflex, which informs the colon to become ready in digesting food. People with IBS often have their gastrocolic reflex activated too early, thus creating muscle spasms and painful overactivity. To effectively prevent this condition, individuals with autism should eat foods that are easy to digest. These foods are also claimed to be as effective as an autism treatment. In addition, many families have found that using a supplementary probiotic for autism treatment helps to increase healthy gut flora, which can lessen autism symptoms.
Food that should be avoided
Here are some foods that should be consumed in moderation or totally avoided by children and adults with ASD and IBS:
Insoluble fibers are fibers that are harder to digest than soluble fibers. It is recommended they be consumed in moderation as they are still needed in maintaining one’s health. Among foods with insoluble fibers are green vegetables like spinach, lettuce, collards, and kale, foods containing whole wheat, wheat bran, and whole grains, and produce such as pineapples, green beans, bell peppers, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and tomatoes.
Fat is not recommended for people with IBS because it makes the digestive system work too hard. Individuals with IBS who eat fatty foods usually suffer from diarrhea or constipation. Among fatty foods are meat and dairy products, fried foods, salad dressings, pastries, donuts, and croissants.
Carbonated products such as sodas should be avoided because they may cause bloating and cramps. Soda also contains lots of caffeine, which stimulates the colon and should be off limits.
Coffee and alcohol
Coffee and alcohol should be avoided because they are known to be GI stimulants. Coffee, in particular, contains caffeine.
Artificial sweetening products like sorbitol are generally considered to be bad for individuals with autism and those with IBS. Ingredients used to provide texture and stability to certain products like carrageenan and guar gum are also known to cause GI symptoms. Among the products with these ingredients are dairy products like ice cream.
Best probiotic strains for autism
Since the majority of children with ASD suffer from GI issues and some form of IBS, it is recommended they consume foods with soluble fibers to effectively reduce their symptoms or treat them completely. Two of the most commonly recommended probiotic strains for autism and IBS are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These can be useful tools in addition to incorporating whole probiotic-rich foods into your child’s diet.
Recommended foods as IBS and autism treatment
Here are some suggested foods for children with autism and GI disorders:
- Potatoes, carrots, yams, and sweet potatoes
- Squash, turnips, beets, and pumpkins
- Pasta and other noodles
- White bread like French bread or sourdough
- Rice and rice cereals
- Bananas, mangoes, papayas, and applesauce
- Herbs like peppermint, chamomile, and fennel
- Foods rich in probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and cultured vegetables like kimchi
Benefits of foods rich in probiotics for kids with autism
Probiotic foods for kids with autism are important in ensuring good nutrient absorption, maintaining digestive health, and supporting the body’s immune system. Aside from these functions, there are other health benefits of probiotics to the human body. Here are some sources of recommended probiotics for autism:
- Effective in maintaining one’s ideal weight or as a diet to reduce weight when obese.
- Good in maintaining a stronger immune system.
- Better digestion of food.
- Improve the production of vitamin B12 in the body, resulting in increased energy.
- Protect the body against cold and flu.
- Prevent bad breath as probiotics help eliminate or destroy the bad breath-causing yeast called Candida.
- Maintain healthy, young-looking skin as probiotics can help prevent skin diseases like eczema and psoriasis.
- Help prevent leaky gut syndrome (in children with autism, leaky gut symptoms may present as potty training regression, outbursts during painful flares, or an increase in picky eating) and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Effective in easing anxiety and depression.
- Can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Can prevent and treat ulcers and urinary tract infections.
- Help improve vaginal health.
Disadvantages or side effects of probiotics
Probiotics are safe for consumption but there may be side effects to ingesting these live microorganisms. Among the alleged side effects are mild gas and bloating. Some brands of probiotics cause overstimulation of the immune system. Other brands are also said to have an adverse effect on the body’s metabolic pathways like carbohydrate metabolism.
Individuals who are immunocompromised, seriously ill, and/or suffering from certain bowel problems are advised to seek their doctors’ approval before consuming probiotics. The live microorganisms are also not suited for infants, young children, and pregnant women. It is also advised that probiotics are never given to premature infants. Consumption of probiotics by some patients, like those with blood in their stools, post-cardiac surgery patients, and patients with pancreatic dysfunction, should be authorized by their physicians.
It can sometimes be challenging for families to manage a child’s health. Autism can be very complex and there are multiple, interconnected symptoms. However, the various advancements in medical research resulting in the discovery of probiotics for autism and improved knowledge on the functioning and purpose of the microbiome in the body, among other findings, are positive steps toward a complete and effective treatment. In the meantime, these new discoveries should be embraced to help children with ASD in managing the most common symptoms and in improving their quality of life.
Finding the best probiotics for autism can be a process of trial and error. It’s important to remember that supplements should not be used as medication. For these reasons, using a probiotic for autism treatment should be done under the care of your child’s pediatrician.
Autism Parenting Magazine tries to deliver honest, unbiased reviews, resources, and advice, but please note that due to the variety of capabilities of people on the spectrum, information cannot be guaranteed by the magazine or its writers. Medical content, including but not limited to text, graphics, images, and other material contained within is never intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read within.