gut function and autism: what’s the common denominator?

WHAT CAUSES AUTISM?
SCIENCE HAS ALREADY PROVIDED PART OF THE ANSWER
(AUTISM AND THE RELATIONSHIP TO GUT HEALTH)

Gut Health Autism

“Autism is primarily a disorder of the brain, but research suggests that as many as nine out of 10 individuals with the condition also suffer from gastrointestinal problems such as inflammatory bowel disease and ‘leaky gut’. The latter condition occurs when the intestines become excessively permeable and leak their contents into the bloodstream.  A spate of new studies suggests that restoring proper microbial balance could alleviate some of the disorder’s behavioral symptoms.  Evidence is mounting that intestinal microbes exacerbate or perhaps even cause some of autism’s symptoms.”  Melinda Wenner Moyer from the September 1, 2014 issue of Scientific American (Gut Bacteria May Play a Role in Autism)

“Mounting evidence shows us that there is a link between the gut and brain; that the gut may have previously under-recognized influences on cognition and possibly even behavior.  Several lines of research also point to the possibility that changes in the gut either cause or are highly associated with driving core ASD (autism spectrum disorder) symptoms.”  Dr. Richard M. Frye (MD / Ph.D), neurologist and Director of Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) Integrated Autism Research Program and Little Rock’s Autism Multispecialty Clinic, from the May 7, 2015 issue of ScienceDaily (Possible Role of Gut Bacteria in Autism)

“Children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) tend to suffer from severe gastrointestinal
problems. Such symptoms may be due to a disruption of the indigenous gut flora promoting the overgrowth of potentially pathogenic micro-organisms. The faecal flora of patients with ASDs was studied and compared with those of two control groups (healthy siblings and unrelated healthy children)…  There is now evidence that the gut microflora plays a role in autism.”
   From the July 4, 2005 edition of the Journal of Medical Microbiology (Differences Between the Gut Microflora of Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders and that of Healthy Children)

“Recent research has uncovered pathology in the gastrointestinal tract of autistic children. The pathology, reported to extend from the esophagus to the colon, is described here along with other studies pointing to a connection between diet and the severity of symptoms expressed in autism.”  From the June 2003 issue of Experimental Biology and Medicine (Experimental Pathophysiology in Autism)

“Recent publications describing upper gastrointestinal abnormalities and ileocolitis have focused attention on gastrointestinal function and morphology in these children. High prevalence of histologic abnormalities in the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon, and dysfunction of liver conjugation capacity and intestinal permeability were reported. Three surveys conducted in the United States described high prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms in children with autistic disorder.”  Taken from the abstract of Autistic Disorder and Gastrointestinal Disease from the October 2002 issue of Opinions in Pediatrics

“We determined the occurrence of gut mucosal damage using the intestinal permeability test in 21 autistic children who had no clinical and laboratory findings consistent with known intestinal disorders. An altered intestinal permeability was found in 9 of the 21 (43%) autistic patients, but in none of the 40 controls.”   From the September 1996 issue of Acta Paediatrica (Abnormal Intestinal Permeability in Children with Autism)

If you are one of the millions of Americans affected in one way or another by AUTISM, it might interest you to see just how much scientific information there really is on its relationship to GUT HEALTH. While some of this is certainly anecdotal (see Robert De Niro’s clip from Good Morning America), much of it is right there in peer-review for all the world to see.  Why aren’t aren’t we hearing more about this topic — especially with some of the studies above having been around for such a long time?  I would suggest you at least browse titles of THESE POSTS before trying to answer that question.  (All research is cherry-picked due to time constraints.)

In 2011, the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics published a simple study (The Prevalence of Gastrointestinal Problems in Children Across the United States with Autism Spectrum Disorders…) that revealed the results of a questionnaire given to families of children with Autism.  Based on three levels of severity, with “Full Autism” being the worst, Parents reported significantly more GI problems in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) compared with their unaffected siblings. The two most common Gl problems in children with ASD were constipation and chronic diarrhea.  Increased autism symptom severity is associated with increased odds of having GI problems.”  By the way, constipation and chronic diarrhea are the main (often times alternating) symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) — a problem we now know to be an AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE.

Not surprisingly, a 2013 issue of the International Review of Neurobiology (Immune Dysregulation in Autism Spectrum Disorder) said in its abstract that, “Widespread alterations in immune molecules and responses are seen in the brains and periphery of ASD individuals, and early life immune disruptions are associated with ASD.”  When I think of the brain’s Immune System, I tend to think of the NEUROGILAL CELLS.  But when I think of the periphery, I automatically think Gut (Enteric Nervous System).  What do we know about the relationship of the Gut and immunity?  Only that the Gut happens to be the home to about 80% of the Immune System cells in the body (HERE) — much, but certainly not all of it, in the form of your MICROBIOME.

Later that year, a team of twenty researchers, publishing in the August issue of Autoimmunity (Immunological and Autoimmune Considerations of Autism Spectrum Disorders) ratcheted things up a notch with the conclusions to their study.  One of the first things they did was admit that the prevalence of this problem was not necessarily the 1% or 1 in 100 we keep hearing over and over and over again in the mainstream media.  They actually confessed that it was as high as 2.64%, which would correlate closely to THESE DOUBLY INSANE NUMBERS.  Secondly, they talked about the neuroglial cells I mentioned in the previous paragraph.  “Inflammation in the brain and CNS has been reported by several groups with notable microglia activation and increased cytokine [Inflammation] production in postmortem brain specimens of young and old individuals with ASD.

When we start to discuss incidence of Autism, it automatically raises the question of why.  Why has Autism exploded over the past several decades from a point where it was virtually unheard of, to the point where it’s so common that it’s passe?  While I completely acknowledge a genetic component; if 2003’s Human Genome Project taught us anything, it’s that we put way too many eggs in the basket touting genetics as the cause of disease.  Conversely, we’ve learned from the field of EPIGENETICS that people are not nearly as defined by their genome as the scientific medical community has led us to believe.  In other words, we need to figure out what the inflammatory triggers are that are flipping the switch and turning on the genes associated with ASD.  Hang on because we’ll get there.

The March / April 2014 issue of the Harvard Review of Psychiatry kept the ball rolling with a study titled Gastrointestinal Issues in Autism Spectrum Disorder.   The abstract of this study stated, “Gastrointestinal (GI) abnormalities are of particular interest given their reported prevalence and correlation with the severity of core autism-related behavioral abnormalities. This review discusses the GI pathologies seen in ASD individuals and the association of particular GI conditions with known genetic and environmental risk factors for autism. It further addresses how GI abnormalities can affect the neuropathological and behavioral features of ASD, as well as the development of autism-related endophenotypes such as immune dysregulation, hyperserotonemia, and metabolic dysfunction [this usually means problems with the mitochondria]. Finally, it presents emerging evidence for a gut-brain connection in autism, wherein GI dysfunction may contribute to the pathogenesis or severity of ASD symptoms.

Although the medical community is befuddled as to the exact mechanisms of how all this takes place; the cool thing is that there are now Functional Medicine specialists (HERE is an MD located in Missouri) who specialize in solving the metabolic dysfunction (mitochondrial dysfunction) so common in Autism.  As for the Hyperserotonemia, I found tons of stuff on it.  In fact, it is the single most prevalent biomarker found in ASD — but nothing concrete about what causes it.  Except…  I found that it was heavily associated with taking any number of drugs — particularly OPIOIDS, ANTIDEPRESSANTS, and a wide array of recreational drugs.  Also important to bear in mind that something like 90% of the bodies SEROTONIN is made in the Gut.   As a side note, the sleep “hormone” melatonin is made from serotonin, which helps explain why Autistics often have such a hard time sleeping.

A couple months after this, the journal Folia Medica (Adaptive Maternal Immune Deviations as a Ground for Autism Spectrum Disorders Development in Children) discussed the potential for mom to pass along certain substances to her unborn baby that cause reactions that have, “consequences on the epigenetic ‘tuning’ of immune system of the fetus and child.”  In other words, these authors think they might know what is driving the inflammatory response(s) that in turn drive Autism.  What are these drivers?  “…specific microbial population…. environmental chemical pollutants….   features [metabolites] of the maternal metabolism.”   I need to make mention here that as per the last paragraph, these pollutants can be drugs / medications.  But how do these substances cross the placental barrier?   In the June 6, 2012 edition of LiveScience, Jennifer Welsh shed some light with a piece called Baby’s Cells Mix and Mingle with Pregnant Mom’s

While the fetus develops inside the womb, its cells mix and mingle with the mother’s after traveling through the placenta, and can stay there for years…..   We strongly believe that there are implications for the future health of women who are or have previously been pregnant.  The researchers aren’t sure how fetal cells get across the placenta into the mother, but it’s possible that there are leaky spots (which get bigger as pregnancy reaches term) in the cells that form the barrier between the baby’s blood and the mother’s blood in the placenta.

When I see the word “leaky” in this context, the first thing I think of is LEAKY GUT SYNDROME.  Although medical doctors decried the existence of LGS for decades, a quick review of the peer-reviewed scientific literature reveals thousands of studies on what they refer to as “Increased Intestinal Permeability” (see the last quote in the group at the top of the page).  But that’s not where “The Leakies” ends.  Mainstream medicine (THE RESEARCH SIDE, NOT THE PRACTICE SIDE) is starting to talk about similar problems such as ‘Leaky Brain‘ or ‘Leaky Lung‘, where substances are allowed to cross the basement membrane, making their way to organs they should be blocked from (HERE).  When looking at studies; what always seems to be the driving force in the numerous variations of The Leakies?  Inflammation, of course.  In other words, inflammation is not only opening up various barriers and allowing bad things to go where they shouldn’t go, but the very same inflammation is affecting our genes in an adverse manner. 

Driving home this point — the point that our genes are being modified (turned on or turned off) by our environment (including OUR DIET) —- is a study published in the August 2014 issue of the World Journal of Gastroenterology (Pathophysiology of Autism Spectrum Disorders: Revisiting Gastrointestinal Involvement and Immune Imbalance).  Listen as this review implicates “genetics” as the culprit in Autism Spectrum Disorders.  “Several genes have been implicated in the pathogenesis of ASD, most of them are involved in neuronal synaptogenesis.”   Sounds like an open and shut case for blaming ASD on bad genes.  But if you stick around, we immediately see that this is not the case.  Providing as good an explanation of epigenetics as you will find, the authors reveal that….

A number of environmental factors and associated conditions such as gastrointestinal (GI) abnormalities and immune imbalance have been linked to the pathophysiology of ASD.  Although there is a strong genetic base for the disease, several associated factors could have a direct link to the pathogenesis of ASD or act as modifiers of the genes thus aggravating the initial problem.   Maternal infection or autoimmune diseases have been suspected. Activation of the immune system during early development may have deleterious effect on various organs including the nervous system.

I’ve already shown you some of the things that are “activating the immune system“.   What sorts of problems do this study reveal to be associated with the epigenetic factors mentioned in the highlighted paragraph above?  Try these on for size.  “….abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, gastroesophageal reflux, and intestinal infections” as well as a, “number of studies focusing on the intestinal mucosa, its permeability, abnormal gut development, leaky gut, and other GI problems.

Because the previous study mentioned abnormal Gut Health and specifically leaky gut as being heavily associated with Autism, lets look at a similar study.  Going back in time a bit from the previous study, the January, 2014 issue of the European Journal of Pediatrics (Immune Dysregulation in Autism Spectrum Disorder) lets the cat out of the bag.  After admitting that, “Few genes have been associated to the risk for ASD development,” the authors go on to mention which epigenetic factors tend to act as the inflammatory trigger to turn these genes toward Autism.

“There is substantial evidence implicating chronic neurological inflammation and immune dysregulation leading to upregulation of inflammatory cytokines in the ASD brain, probably due to altered blood-brain barrier function. The immune system is characterized by excessive and skewed cytokine responses, modulated T cell reactivity, decreased regulation and production of immunosuppressive cytokines, modified NK function and increased autoantibody production.”

In plain English, INFLAMMATION (it’s not what you think it is, so click the link to understand it) ultimately arising from an entrance gained through an altered (leaky or hyperpermeable) barrier, attacks the developing brain.  The result is more inflammation and Autoimmunity caused by a failure of Tregs (the immunosuppressive cells known as ‘T-REGULATORY CELLS‘ (TREGS) that used to be called ‘Suppressor T Cells’) and an upregulation of Cytotoxic Killer T-Cells (not to mention an increase in both the number and aggressiveness of “Natural Killer” or NK cells that sometimes get confused with the Killer T’s).  Another study from last year showed almost the same thing.

The January 2015 issue of Immunology Letters (Evidence Supporting an Altered Immune Response in ASD) concluded that, “Symptoms of immune dysfunction in ASD include neuroinflammation, presence of autoantibodies, increased T cell responses, and enhanced innate NK cell and monocyte immune responses. Moreover these responses are frequently associated with more impairment in core ASD features including impaired social interactions, repetitive behaviors and communication.

As we have learned today, inflammation from whatever the source, has, via ‘The Leakies,’ the ability to both expose the brains and nervous systems of developing infants to substances or organisms that they should not be exposed to (at least not so early in life) and trigger aka ‘turn on’ certain ‘bad’ genes.  The two factors that are most well known for this were talked about repeatedly in these studies — microorganisms (BACTERIA, YEAST, MOLD, VIRUSES, CHRONIC OR OCCULT INFECTIONS, etc) and ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS

Although we could easily and accurately be talking about GLUTEN when we talk about “NEUROTOXINS,” the single most toxic non-radioactive element on the planet is something you are all at least somewhat familiar with — MERCURY (any number of medications are extremely toxic as well). This does not even touch on the fact that many are saying that ALUMINUM is even more toxic to the brain — and it’s the universal vaccine adjuvant (an adjuvant purposely creates inflammation and neuroinflammation in order to make the vaccine work harder / “better”).  Is it possible that injecting these substances directly into our infants and children (not to mention pregnant moms — HERE) could be at least contributing to the AUTISM EXPLOSION that no one can seem to figure out?

“Gut disease with inflammation is becoming increasingly evident in autism. Widespread inflammatory changes with poor intestinal digestive enzyme activity, abnormal intestinal permeability, and malabsorption have been reported in various autistic subgroups.  Ethyl mercury as a vaccine preservative (thimersol) may also inflict gut injury.”  From the July, 2001 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives (Mercury and Autistic Gut Disease)

Or maybe it’s just that in our current environment of ANTIVAXXER PARANOIA, no one is willing to take the next step and come forward with their results?  Rest assured that studies showing any relationship between Autism and Vaccines are being squelched (last link in previous paragraph).  The truth is, doing this research is nigh impossible because no one (individuals, facilities, or organizations) want to be associated with it.   And the simple act of publishing such a study would be the equivalent of signing your own death warrant concerning your career (CASE IN POINT). 

There’s another question that even most thinking people are failing to address.  Are we “SWAPPING” childhood diseases — diseases that for the most part everyone used to get and get over quickly — for chronically debilitating lifetime diseases (namely Autoimmune Diseases —- HERE’s a list if you are not sure what I am talking about)?  Many experts would argue the affirmative (HERE is one pertaining to today’s topic).

Face it, we’ve known for decades that Autism Spectrum Disorders are intimately related to dysfunctions of the Gut.  We’ve known for much longer than that that mercury and aluminum are both bad news when it comes to health. So, could vaccines be the culprit in ASD?  No.  They are not “the” culprit.  But could they be “a” culprit?  I think that scientists that are not at least open to this question are being dishonest in light of both peer-review and what the general public is saying about their experience(s) (HERE).  Which begs yet another question.  How big of a culprit are they? 

I’m really not sure.  But as the rest of the world continues to research this topic (and people continue to say that their child was normal until they got their shots), this information is becoming increasingly difficult for the FDA to suppress.   Let’s get to that spot where the rubber meets the road.  What can you as the parent of an Autistic child do to help heal a Gut messed up by who-knows-what?  Plenty — and most of it is not rocket science. HERE is the link.  One more thing; I would never suggest you do anything without first getting the express written consent of your doctor.

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