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more on the autism / gut health / dysbiosis connection


Just weeks ago, a study was published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience called The Gut Microbiota and Autism Spectrum Disorders.  Since the days when Leo Kanner and Bernard Rimland were “discovering” AUTSIM and bringing it to the American consciousness fifty and sixty years ago, it has been widely associated with various Gut issues we’ll talk about momentarily.  The question that needs to be answered before we begin today’s post is whether the autism is causing the Gut dysfunctions, or the Gut dysfunctions are causing the autism?  I have a pretty good idea, but let’s take a look at peer-review.  Rather than go through hundreds of studies (yes there are hundreds), let’s take a look at just one.

The October 2014 issue of Bioessays (Altered Brain-Gut Axis in Autism: Comorbidity or Causative Mechanisms?) had this to say about one’s MICROBIOME (the total number and species of gut flora living in a particular individual, as well as the sum total of their genes) in relation to autism.

“The concept that altered communications between the gut microbiome and the brain may play an important role in human brain disorders has recently received considerable attention. Gastrointestinal symptoms are a common comorbidity in patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), even though the underlying mechanisms are largely unknown. In addition, alteration in the composition and metabolic products of the gut microbiome has long been implicated as a possible causative mechanism contributing to ASD pathophysiology, and this hypothesis has been supported by several recently published evidence models. Recent evidence in one such model is characterized by alterations in behavior, gut physiology, microbial composition, and related metabolite profile…..”

In other words, not only do the authors admit that we’ve known about the Gut / Autism link for a very long time, they believe that the evidence points to the fact that Gut problems are not merely “comorbidites” — concurrent heath issue that are related to but not caused by — but are actually “causative“.  There are numerous studies espousing essentially the same thing.    On top of this, many studies indicate that there is a direct relationship — the worse the autism, the worse the problems with the Gut.  Let’s see if today’s study backs these assertions, and more importantly, if there might be a solution somewhere in the mix.

  • GENETICS OR EPIGENETICS IN RELATION TO TOXICITY:  This review talked about the relationship between GENETICS AND EPIGENETICS, essentially telling us that while there is definitely a genetic component in as many as 50% of the children with autism, there are a wide array of potential epigenetic triggers. What are these triggers?  The authors specifically listed, “dysregulation of the immune system, inflammation, exposure to environmental toxicants, and environmental factors.INFLAMMATION is self-explanatory, and can itself dysregulate immune system function — not surprising considering we’ve known for two decades that 80% of the immune system resides in the Gut (HERE).  As far as exposure to toxic chemicals, they are legion (HERE is a common one).   There is another one we’ll talk about at the end of the paper that I don’t want to touch on yet.  Many autistic kids have problems with their BIOTRANSFORMATION SYSTEMS as well — problems for which there are now actually tests. Lastly, let me mention that not all “environmental exposures” are bad — many are both good and vital for health (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE).
  • GI SYMPTOMS:  These would include some of the same symptoms commonly seen in those with SIBO / IBS (CONSTIPATION, diarrhea, and gas — the later two often being extremely foul smelling — cramps, bloating, and abdominal pain).  The authors stated that of these, constipation was the number one symptom, experienced by 85% of those with autism.  Oh, they also said, “Furthermore, the observed symptoms are associated with the severity of ASD.”  In other words, the worse the autism, the worse the Gut symptoms are likely to be.
  • PREGNANT MOM’S DIET MATTERS:  The authors quoted many studies showing that high fat diets by mom led to various forms of DYSBIOSIS (altered microbiome) in their children.  As I have shown you repeatedly, however, I would assert that the amount of fat has far less to do with this phenomenon than the kind of fats being consumed (HERE), as the kind of fats you consume either drive or squelch inflammation.  Bear in mind that although this was not talked about (not sure why), we know through mountains of research that SUGAR FEEDS INFECTION, and that dysbiosis is essentially an infection.  Honestly, this bullet is a no-brainer.  In other words, why would we think for even two seconds that pregnant mom’s diet does not matter?  Interestingly, one of the only foods specifically mentioned in the entire study was GROUND BEEF — in a beneficial way.  It increased microbiomal diversity.
  • ANTIBIOTICS, EITHER MATERNAL OR FOR BABY:  I sound like a broken record here, but THIS POST shows you why I believe antibiotics are the single worst thing you can do to your health or the health of your family.  “The composition of the microbiota of children who were treated with antibiotics during the first 3 years of life is less diverse in terms of both bacterial species and strains. A population-based cohort study revealed the use of various antibiotics during pregnancy as a potential risk factor for ASD/infantile autism.”  Because Gut Health is everything, ANTIBIOTICS have the potential to mess up your health (or the health of your child — born or unborn) in ways that we are only just beginning to figure out. 
  • DYSBIOSIS IS ASSOCIATED WITH AN ARRAY OF DISEASES AND POOR HEALTH OUTCOMES:  I have shown you time and time again that when it comes to your overall health, the HEALTH OF YOUR GUT is everything.  Thus, we should not be surprised that anything that causes dysbiosis (HERE are a few of them) has been shown by any number of studies, including this one, to be associated with increased incidence of ASD.  I would add one warning here, and that’s that ANY AND ALL DRUGS act at least to some degree as antibiotics (they kill bacteria), some much more than others.  Quite interestingly, today’s study talked about non-bacterial forms of dysbiosis such as MOLDS, YEASTS (Candida), and fungus.  Not surprisingly, Candida was heavily associated with ASD.
  • BREAST FED -VS- FORMULA FED MATTERS WHEN IT COMES TO AUTISM:  I’ve talked about this before (HERE), but today’s study mentions it as well.  “The early feeding pattern also influences the gut microbiota of infants and is associated with ASD. Formula-fed infants present an increased species richness accompanied by an overrepresentation of Clostridium difficile (C. DIFF) compared with breast-fed infants. Breast-feeding for more than 6 months is associated with a lower risk of developing ASD. Penn studied infants with an older sibling diagnosed with ASD in the San Diego area and found that breast-feeding might protect the infants against GI symptoms. As an individual’s diet diversifies with increasing age, the gut microbiota gradually stabilizes.”  Along these same lines, not being delivered vaginally (HERE) was a risk factor for ASD as well. One of the ways that cutting-edge birthing facilities are getting around this is to swab C-sectioned babies with secretions from mom’s vagina.
  • AUTISM IS INFLAMMATORY / NEUROINFLAMMATORY:  We already know this, but today’s study beat this point like a drum, talking about SPECIFIC INFLAMMATORY MEDIATORS (we collectively refer to these as “inflammation”) include cytokines such as, “interleukin-1β (IL-1β), IL-6, interferon-γ (IFN-γ), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α).”  These are some of the same mediators you will see in almost every inflammatory disease you care to research.
  • LEAKY GUT SYNDROME & LEAKY BRAIN SYNDROME:  Although it had to do with head injuries caused by whiplash, I showed you how this works just the other day (HERE).  For starters, be aware that gut hyperpermeability is considered by these authors to be to top of the mountain as far as understanding autism is concerned. “The fundamental factor underlying the relationships between ASD and the gut is the increased permeability of the intestinal tract of ASD individuals, referred to as a “leaky gut”.”  And here’s the rub; because the mechanisms are essentially the same, infants / children who develop a leaky gut tend to develop LEAKY BRAIN SYNDROME as well (a dysfunctional BBB or Blood Brain Barrier), which allows the inflammation from the bullet above access to the brain.  “An increased intestinal permeability results in a higher antigenic load from the gastrointestinal tract. Lymphocytes and ASD-associated cytokines are present in the circulation and cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Subsequently, IL-1β and TNF-α bind to brain endothelial cells and induce immune responses in the brain.
  • AUTISM, THE HPA-AXIS, GUT METABOLITES, AND NEUROLOGICAL DEFICIT:  Not only is there tons of information out there relating microbiome to brain function in terms of Autism, there is about a hundred times more relating them to virtually any neurological issue you care to name.  Be aware that dysbiotic organisms are making chemicals that do some funky things in the body, some of which include, “affect ASD-like behaviors through the vagal pathways; cross the BBB and induce ASD-like behaviors; provoke autistic-like behaviors; results in hyperactivity, repetitive behaviors and abnormal motor movements; similar to the behavioral and electrographic changes detected in humans with ASD; leads to impaired social behavior; alters neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine; impairs learning and increases depression-like behaviors; shows abnormal social behaviors, nonstandard communication, and repetitive behaviors….” I cherry-picked these from across several paragraphs, but believe me when I tell you that this is a tiny fraction of what’s in there.

This is all great to know — especially for those of you with very young children or those who may be getting ready to start a family.  But what about those of you who already have a child or children with autism?  The numbers are massive and growing every day (HERE), with current stats showing 1 in 32 children are autistic.

When it comes to autism, the point at where the rubber meets the road is the point that something can be done about it.  And although the authors of this study admit that, “At present, there are no effective therapies for ASD,” they go on to show that there are any number of studies that are at the very least, promising.  I’ve always said that in regards to the Gut, the restoration effort is two-pronged and involves restoring both the microbiota and the function of the body’s barrier systems (cord, gut, brain, nerve, lung, etc, etc).  The cool thing is that it is all done in essentially the same manner.

  • AUTISM SOLUTIONS; RESTORING THE MICROBIOME:  These authors talked at length about both PROBIOTICS and PREBIOTICS (fiber), mentioning lots of studies showing benefits of both.  While I am a huge fan of both, the truth is, for every study showing that probiotics are beneficial, you can find one saying they are not.  This is why when the authors discussed FMT (Fecal Microbiota Transplant), they hit the proverbial nail on the head.  I truly believe that when it comes to really sick people (this would include a significant portion of those with ASD), FMT blows the doors off of probiotics (HERE’S WHY).  There are any number of other things that you can do to help restore microbiome as well, most having to do with diet.  These would include yogurt, kefier, kombucha, fermented veggies, etc, etc, etc.  My opinion is that making your own (especially if you can get your hands on RAW MILK — raw goat’s milk even better) is the way to go.  Why raw? Commercial products are pasteurized, and pasteurization is specifically for the purpose of killing bacteria.  Bacteria, folks, is exactly why we want to consume the stuff in the first place.
  • AUTISM SOLUTIONS; RESTORING GUT BARRIER FUNCTION:  The authors did not really talk at length about this, assuming I guess, that if you take care of everything else, this bullet will take care of itself, which is frequently the case.  The biggest way to do this is by changing your…….
  • AUTISM SOLUTIONS; DIET:  This is a biggie — particularly in an age when HIGHLY PROCESSED CARB-BASED DIETS are the norm.  From reading between the lines, my best guess would be that many of these kids have severe CARB ADDICTIONS.  These go along with addictions to casomorphins and glutomorphins as shown by other studies (HERE).  Of course, the diets I usually recommend for those with autism would be the PALEO (GAPS) or in some cases, KETOGENIC — always based on WHOLE FOODS.  Why?  “A gluten-free and/or casein-free diet improves ASD behaviors, physiological symptoms, and social behaviors. The ketogenic diet is a high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet and results in reductions in the total gut microbial counts, increased sociability, decreased repetitive behaviors, and improved social communication in an ASD animal model.”  Because there is a freaky amount of research on the link between GLUTEN AND NEUROLOGICAL ISSUES, I don’t think these authors spent nearly enough time on the subject, considering the numbers of studies on the topic.  Just be aware that changing the diets of autistic children can prove challenging simply because this study talked about other studies showing that kids with autism, and particularly if they have Gut issues, tend to be highly picky eaters, rejecting protein, fruits, and particularly vegetables (HERE).
  • AUTISM SOLUTIONS; ANTIBIOTICS:  Because research continues to largely point to autism as one of the myriad of dysbiosis-based neurological / psychological pathologies, we should not be surprised that there are those out there who want to treat this creature with ANTIBIOTICS.  The problem with this approach is that in similar fashion to C. Diff that I mentioned earlier, the cause and the cure are the same — antibiotics — which sets up vicious cycles.  The one thing the authors mentioned that made a degree of sense was something called MTT (Microbiota Transfer Therapy), which is essentially an FMT preceded by two weeks of antibiotic therapy and in some cases COLONIC IRRIGATION or similar.  I have not looked to see if it is as effective as FMT’s are.  I do remember a post from DR. ART AYERS saying that he was not a huge fan of “colon cleanses”.

The authors concluded by saying, “multiple studies show that an abnormal gut microbiota is related to ASD.  Many recent clinical studies have shown that treatments that regulate the gut microbiota result in improvements in ASD symptoms.”  This is super cool information for those of you who have autistic children.  It means that if you are willing to step outside the box just a little bit, there’s hope. 

The thing you have to remember is that the average therapist / physician who is treating autistic children is practicing way behind the times as far as current peer-review is concerned (HERE), and not likely to be up on much of this. My opinion is that if you ever hope to make any sort of real changes with your autistic child, you’ll probably need to follow some of the advice provided in this study.

One final point for those of you who are still in the process of having children and growing your families; remember at the beginning of the post where I said I wanted to talk just a bit more about a particular “environmental toxicant and environmental factor“?  There is no way we can control all of the zany amount of pollutants and toxic chemicals we or our children are exposed to on a daily basis.  Just remember that no matter what our “TRUST-US” GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES continue to say concerning the autism / vaccine debate, the tide is slowing turning concerning what some of these toxicants might be.

In similar fashion to the way that Dr. Dean Burk was vindicated for decades of assertions that he was derided and criticized for — that fluoride is indeed a CARCINOGENIC TOXIN —- we are seeing some interesting studies come to light on things like MERCURY, ALUMINUM, formaldehyde, and other “VACCINE ADJUVANTS,” that the government and mainstream medicine continues to say are safe. While these might be safe for many children — possibly even the majority of our children — when we start giving infants shots on day one, there is no conceivable way to test children for tolerance to such shots.  Test? 

Thanks to genetic testing, there are ways to know whether certain aspects of an individual’s DETOXIFICATION SYSTEMS are working properly or not — a huge deal considering the massive number of people with genetic mutations in their methylation pathways (MTHFR) — some studies are saying as many as 50%.  This will make more sense once you actually look at the CDC’s own list of goodies commonly found in vaccines (HERE — things I already mentioned plus formaldehyde, MSG, and others). 

I find it interesting how numerous medical researchers are climbing on the autism / BPA bandwagon, for no other reason than, while I feel it’s a valid target, it’s definitely a politically correct target.  Even suggesting the potential that vaccines could be one of many causes of dysbiosis in susceptible children or infants is not going to win you any favors with those funding your research.  If he had not passed away a few years back, you could ask one of the 20th century’s premier biomedical researchers, DR. HUGH FUDENBERG, whether or not studying vaccines as related to neurological damage has the potential to be career suicide. 


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