Autism: An Association From Gut To Brain

In the last two years,  the repetitive talks circling autism and the connections between the stomach and autism behaviors have grown to the point that scientists are starting to take things a little more seriously.  With thousands of parents pushing to find alternatives in treating the challenging behaviors of ASD, the diets that have become so popular and have had mixed results are now being examined more carefully.

And when I mean more carefully, I mean under a microscope, literally.  Symposiums in Canada last year brought together several autism researchers who felt that there could be some real effects to altering the diets of children with autism.  It has to do with the microbial world of the intestinal tract, and that making it a healthier environment for positive bacteria is the key.

In another CBC news story, Canadian researchers confirmed last September that propionic acid, found in the stomachs of everyone but in higher amounts of autistic children, who crave the foods that contain it.  High carbohydrate foods, like bread, pasta, and sweets, were at the top of these children’s lists when it came to what they wanted to eat.  In the study they conducted, the scientists found that the children who ate less of the carbohydrate rich foods had fewer repetitive and aggressive behaviors than the group that was allowed to eat what they liked and craved.  Further study of their intestinal florae showed a significant difference between them and the peers that ate every high carbohydrate thing they could get their hands on.

It may be the first time that the fad diets parents have tried have some bearing on scientific research.  Certainly removing gluten products in one diet or removing high carbohydrate foods in another is what resulted in minor leaps forward for the research here.  But there isn’t a whole picture yet, and the researchers from the Canadian groups even acknowledge that in the end of their story and studies.

The true science behind it all lies with the fact that the brain and gut are responsible for working together from birth to create over a trillion different microbial life forms.
(The actual number is something like 10 to the 14th power, but since very few people understand what that means, we’ll just say well over a trillion.)  Every last bacteria and microbe has a job to do, and, outside of infections, it does quite well.  It was those same microbes as they relate to childhood infections that the Canadian researchers were interested in studying, but ended up heading in a slightly different direction with their research.

A downloadable podcast from Melbourne, Australia and its university there has two doctors, one neuroscientist and one gastroenterologist, discussing the connections and implications for the gut-brain autism idea.  It’s quickly becoming a worldwide topic of interest; however, it’s slow to catch on in the United States because of limited studies and the amount of proof required to support it.  Parents in the U.S. appear to be undaunted and continue with dietary changes for their autistic children regardless of the slowness of medical research here in the states. has added its own commentary, noting that there were implications from actual studies conducted over forty years ago that children with Asperger’s had a higher rate of Celiac’s disease and autistic children had issues with malabsorption of particular foods as they were processed.   AAPPublications, at the time of this journal article’s release in 2009, felt that there still wasn’t enough evidence to conclude that some aspects of ASD were linked to what the children ate, didn’t eat, or couldn’t eat without problems.  A more current entry couldn’t be found.

Dozens more articles from both news sources and research and medical journals continues the argument of whether or not the brain and the gut are working in tandem against a child with autism.  With the Canadians putting forth their research just last year (2012), there’s likely to be more on the way.  Some of these rumors and news articles date back to 2006, when somebody somewhere first proposed the idea.  Perhaps in the next five to ten years there will proof absolute that the microbes in a child’s tummy and what he or she eats really is to blame for their challenging and related behaviors to autism.

Parents who want to research the subject more only need to type in the title of this article in any search engine and see what pops up.  Even China and the Soviet Union are looking for pieces to the autism puzzle in the human stomach.  Will the end result be fad, faux, or real science?  Who knows, but it is worth the read and for parents looking for answers, it helps alleviate some anxiety.

What that means for now is that parents can try to alter their autistic children’s diets to see what “trigger” foods are responsible.  Removing one food at a time and then adding it back in to see if behaviors reoccur will help them better understand why their children have the behaviors they do.  It’s no easy task; no kid on this planet would want to give up pizza because the crust is responsible for making him cranky.  But there are a lot of grocery products out there to help kids and adults with unusual dietary needs, and parents just have to get creative with them.

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Autism and Gut Flora

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