Study: Rebalancing the gut improves symptoms of autism

The evidence is growing that gut bacteria is connected to the brain, and a new study shows how this link can be used to help people with autism.

Human gut bacteria needs to maintain the right balance for optimal health and immunity. The ideal ratio is believed to be somewhere around 85 percent “good” bacteria to 15 percent “bad” bacteria. The right ratio allows your immune system to recognize any foreign bacteria or pathogens, and when it’s thrown off balance, it can have serious repercussions for your physical and mental health. In addition to autism, poor gut health has been linked to anxiety and depression.

A study involving 18 children with autism between the ages of 7 and 16, found that rebalancing the gut led to an improvement in their symptoms. The children were given fecal transplants in order to introduce healthy microbes into their guts. Their doctors and parents reported positive changes in the children that lasted for at least eight weeks following the treatment. Improvements were noted in both their neurological and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Standardized questionnaires were used to assess factors such as their hyperactivity, irritability, social skills and communication. Their average developmental age rose by 1.4 years following the treatment, while doctor-reported symptoms using the Childhood Autism Rating Scale dropped by 22 percent when the study ended.

The children’s gastrointestinal symptoms dropped a remarkable 82 percent over the course of treatment, and the bacterial diversity in their guts was identical to that of their healthy peers in the end.

Past research has shown that children who have autism have lower bacterial diversity and lower numbers of a few important types of gut bacteria, such as those responsible for the breakdown of carbohydrates and the fermentation of food. The researchers hypothesize that this could be related to antibiotic over-prescription, which is a big problem in the United States. In fact, CDC data indicates that around a third of the antibiotics prescribed in this country are unnecessary, and many of them are prescribed for conditions that simply do not respond to antibiotics in the first place.

Of course, antibiotics aren’t the only way to destroy good gut flora. Pesticides are another common culprit, which is yet another reason that it is vital to buy organic fruits and vegetables or grow your own. Something else that can wreak havoc on gut bacteria is vaccines that contain heavy metal toxins.

In case you’re wondering what a fecal transplant entails, the process is actually quite simple. Donor feces is screened for bacteria and disease-causing viruses, before being introduced into the gastrointestinal tract of another person. This particular study used microbiota transfer therapy, where the children were given a liquid fecal transplant in a high dose that was later supplemented with smoothies containing a lower dosage. The process is also used for other conditions, like C. diff.

While the results were very encouraging, the researchers warned families not to try it on their own as it could be harmful if not carried out properly.

Probiotics are one way to help improve your ratio of good to bad gut bacteria, but on their own, they are not enough if you continue to make bad lifestyle choices that put this ratio in jeopardy – for example, by eating meat that has been pumped full of antibiotics. One great natural probiotic is kefir. It is believed to contain as many as 10 billion colony-forming units of good bacteria, some of which can’t be found in yogurt.

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