In today’s scientific community, the microbiome is top of everyone’s mind. We are learning that a very high portion of the body’s functions have a connection to the colonization of bacteria that lives in your gut. We also know that the North American lifestyle doesn’t typically foster the healthiest of microbiome flora.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a complex syndrome that appears in early childhood and is the fastest-growing developmental disability in children today, is also being study in connection to the microbiome. Autistic children have difficulties in language development, social interactions, and repetitive patterns of behavior and there are millions affected by this disorder worldwide. So what does your microbiome have to do with autism?
Many researchers are starting to find that as we gain a deeper understanding of the gut microbiome, it is opening up new avenues of research on ASD, including potential treatment strategies.1 Recent research found that children with autism have a less diverse microflora.2 A study done by Harvard medical school also found that many people with autism were deficient in enzymes for digesting simple sugars which was suggested to be a life-long problem.3
Considering the effect of the microbiome and its metabolic products in ASD adds another layer of complexity onto an already complex disorder. Researchers have, in a number of studies, reported usage of oral antibiotics during infancy was two to three times higher in children with autism versus controls.4,5,6,7,8 Increased use of antibiotics could have a significant impact on the diversity of a person’s microflora. It has been shown that the effect of even short-term use, seven days, of broad-spectrum antibiotics with predominant anaerobic coverage (e.g., Clindamycin) could last up to two years.9 Although it is unlikely that the microbiome is the sole influence of ASD, it looks likely that it plays a crucial role in the presentation of symptoms.
With this development, scientists have begun studying Microbiota Transfer Therapy (MTT) as a potential treatment for ASD. One study found MTT lead to approximately an 80% reduction of GI symptoms at the end of treatment along with significant improvements in behavioral ASD symptoms which lasted for eight weeks post treatment.10 This field of research is still in its infancy; however, we are seeing exciting scientific strides coming from this new area of interest.