Link between Autism and Crohn’s Disease

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that often appears in children who are developing normally and suddenly experience a regression in interactive skills such as language development and eye contact.  Parents and doctors have often noted that these regressions sometimes take place with the onset of gastrointestinal(GI) problems in the child, such as diarrhea and severe stomachaches.

Crohn’s Disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that can delay growth and development in young children.  It can cause severe diarrhea, fatigue, stomach cramps and pain, and even rectal bleeding.  Crohn’s disease can be similar to other GI problems since many of them share symptoms.  Some people believe there is a link between Crohn’s Disease and autism, since GI troubles often plague children with autism.

Several scientific studies link disrupted gut function to the development of autism and a large percentage of children with autism experience gastrointestinal issues.  Studies looking at the gastrointestinal pathology of children with autism find that many of these children have widespread problems throughout their GI tract that could be causing their stomach problems and potentially be linked to their development of autism.  This includes inflammation as well as inhibition of certain digestive enzymes.  No studies have proven, however, that these stomach problems are causing or are caused by autism.

Crohn’s disease is a specific type of GI disease that could affect a child with autism.  However most of the GI problems found in children with autism would not be described as Crohn’s.

It’s important to note that while there is no clear link between Crohn’s and autism specifically, stomach problems are indeed associated with autism. Throughout the history of the diagnosis, parents of children with autism report that their child has issues with digestion, loose stools, or food intolerance in addition to his or her autism.

Some scientists theorize that GI problems in children with autism are caused by “leaky gut” and that leaky gut may cause symptoms of autism. In people with leaky gut, the mucosa that lines the walls of the intestines are more permeable than they should be and allow partially digested food and other material to cross through the intestine and enter the bloodstream or central nervous system.  Scientists have identified that some digestive products could cause psychological responses.  This hypothesis stems from research that shows a similar pathology in adults with schizophrenia.  However, it is important to note that the leaky-gut hypothesis is still in the theoretical phase and that it is likely only the cause of some cases of autism.

Some evidence has surfaced that irritant-free diets (such as gluten-free, casein-free diets) can help mediate some symptoms of autism in children that exhibit stomach issues.  This seems to provide proof for a gut-focused cause. However, dietary intervention has not been shown to cure or reverse autism and it’s important that people not look for a miracle-cure when implementing a diet for their child with autism.

There is also a link between autoimmune disease and autism.  Mothers with autoimmune issues are more likely to have children with social abnormalities and difficulties.  Additionally, a child with autism may be more likely to develop autoimmune issues himself, such as akylosing spondylitis.  However, in a recent study, researchers found no link between autism and the development of Crohn’s disease.

Some interesting researches:
1). Link between birth control pills and autism?
2). Study reveals link between gut bacteria and autism?
3). Autism caused by breast milk?
4). Llink between vaccinations and autism?


  1. Our son is now 27, diagnosed a few years ago with Major OCD, Major Anxiety, Major Depression. In 9th grade he had Crohn’s disease, took massive doses of Pentasa, had the surgery to remove the infected portion of his colon and is now “free of any symptoms” as he tells us. by 12th grade he was withdrawing from school involvement, cutting school, etc. Fast forward to now.. he would be homeless if we wouldn’t support him, but our involvement comes with very clear conditions so that we are not enabling him. He still cannot work, lays around much of the day, cannot interact with people unless forced (such as a therapist 2x a week), but is taking 20mg of Paxil (finally after 2 years of our insisting) and is improving but minimally.
    We know of treatments that flush the body of toxins and bacteria using high levels of antibiotics, as if treating lyme disease. Any help or advice would be awesome… thank you! Don

  2. Hi Don, unfortunately I don’t have an answer for you, however, your son sounds exactly like my son, we could be talking about the same person, I had to re read a couple of times, except my son refuses to take antidepressants due to a bad reaction with increased OCD when he took them two years ago.
    I have just taken my son to a Professor of Gastroenterology who agreed that the Crohns can effect the mind, it’s due to mycobacterium avium Paratuberculosis infection..
    Thank god for him as it’s been a nightmare with other doctors saying that it’s only related in the sense of him being anxious about his crohns..
    As parents we know our children, and we see them every day, we see the effect of these diseases. Please understand that your son is not being lazy, it’s the infection that’s making him this way,.
    My son has intense frustration and anger and he has turned into a tantrum two year old, it’s not his personality though, he always was a warm loving happy child until he got crohns and ‘OCD’ like symptoms…
    We started on anti map antibiotics yesterday, and the Prof says they will cure his mental issues also. We will also be undergoing hyperbaric treatment later on.
    I hope this helps.
    Do some research and I can email you docs details if you are interested.

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