Autism and the Microbiome

Autism and the Microbiome

-And why aren’t we targeting this in every child?

This question comes with an answer: It is not that straightforward.

But it should be done. Most of the nutrition/ biomedicine based interventions you are doing to help your Autistic child’s regulation, anxiety, diarrhea, constipation, pain should focus on diversifying and “normalizing” their microbiome.

Q. What is the microbiome?

A. The trillions of bacteria (but also yeast, parasites and viruses) that coexist with your body and directly or indirectly affect almost every biochemical process in your body.

Q. What is wrong with the microbiome in children with Autism?

A. There are numerous studies that correlate a disrupted microbiome (altered ratio of bacteria when compared to non-autistic controls) with autistic symptoms. We also have both anecdotal and published data that shows that attempts to correct this imbalance often results in a reduction in severity of both GI and behavioral symptoms.

This past month itself, there have been (at least) 3 landmark studies / clinical trials that have talked about the role of the gut-microbiome in children with Autism. The combination of these three papers is remarkable but not a completely new paradigm. We have known for close to a decade about this strong association.

  1.  Microbiota Transfer Therapy : This is a remarkable trial where 18 children with “severe” autism symptoms were given a fecal microbiota transplant (along with some other facilitating procedures) and 44% of these kids no longer qualified for an autism diagnosis. 90% of the children involved had a 70-100% improvement in their symptoms!

    Here is an excellent summary by Gita Gupta.
  2. Genetic Mutations in the Gut and the Brain could cause Autism. We know that a majority of kids with autism suffer from severe gut issues. This study isolated a gene mutation that causes impaired digestion, lower motility (movement through the digestive tract).

    To me, this mutation seems like an invitation for SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) which co-occurs very frequently with people with gut issues, and therefore in autistic children.
  3. Human Gut Microbiota from individual with Autism induced “hallmark autistic behaviors” (in this case the authors mean reduced social interaction and repetitive actions) in mice.
  4. This is remarkable proof of the strong association between microbiota and human behavior.
FMT Capsules

But impacting our microbiome is something we do on a daily basis.

So why aren’t we doing anything about it?

While a Fecal Microbiota Transplant is the most effective way to change your microbiome, these methods and their variations such as Microbiota Transfer Therapy are methods generally done under close supervision of an expert.

Eating pesticide laden food, exposure to chemicals from plastic, synthetic hormones, antibiotic usage are all well known ways to damage the diversity of your microbiome.

You don’t have to wait for a study to impact your gut microbiome. In the meantime you can:

  1. Eat a diverse variety of prebiotics or fiber containing foods. Different foods with different lengths and types of fiber feed different bacteria.

    In fact, prebiotics are the single most effective way of increasing diversity of the microbiome after a Fecal Transplant. It is also the easiest way to maintain diversity.
  2. Be in harmony with bacteria in your environment: this includes consuming ferments.
  3. Avoid pesticides. Avoid frequent antibiotics by addressing root cause [unless being used therapeutically for a specific reason].

    In short, avoid constant exposure to things that are designed to kill bacteria, given that you ARE made up of bacteria!

If you have tried (1) or (2) already and have not seen results, it may be because they often will not work in a child with:

  1. SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
  2. Intestinal Permeability
  3. Weak upper digestion

Healing is not linear. We don’t proceed step by step. We converge upon it from many sides simultaneously. Check out this radical blog on the 3-step model for optimal health.

More on prebiotics later.

Things not clear? Still need to chat about the microbiome? Drop a comment, let’s chat!

The one Magic Pill for healing Gut Inflammation

The one Magic Pill for healing Gut Inflammation

While obviously, there is no one magic pill for gut health, if there could be one supplement that I would recommend most everyone have, it would have to be this one!

Digestive Bitters: the root of roots

If you were trying to develop a skill in your child (or yourself), would you constantly offer simple, highly rudimentary tasks that never evolved in challenge? Would you keep the tasks basic, and when the child complained, make them even less complex?

We are intuitive enough to know that challenge begets skill, complexity begets mastery, yet we keep this intuition to the side when we feed our kids (and even ourselves)!

  • How basic is your child’s food?
  • Is she tasting anything but sweet and salt? 
  • What are the complexities of textures he experiences?
  • How many different foods has she tasted in her life that are not variations on the same food ? (eg. idli and dosa, or toast and waffle or nachos and pizza don’t count!)

What are we not eating?

For one: the bitter taste has completely vanished from our palates progressively since the industrial revolution. I remember my grandparents and my mother loving the Indian preparation of Bitter Gourd. It is not a vegetable I see in my generation any more.

A traditional Indian Bitter Gourd Dish

So has true fermented pungency and astringency to an extent.

We are only stimulating 50% of our taste receptors in our body. These receptors are known to stimulate digestive enzyme production, 
hormonal balance, and appetite production and control!

And we are quite definitely over stimulating our sweet receptors.

  1. Bitter taste stimulates the digestive system, increasing stomach acid (this is a good thing for digestion), digestive enzyme and bile secretion.
  2. It warns the body that intruders may be near (since toxic compounds are often bitter) stimulating it to tonify the immune system.

Enter the digestive bitters: 5 uses

Extracted from roots and leaves of many bitter plants like dandelion, ginger, yellow dock and burdock, these are a fantastic and easy way to give a quick digestion boost before meals. Most everyone can benefit (if you are pregnant, you should consult an herbalist and your doctor before starting). And they don’t really even taste all that bitter or unpalatable.

What do they do for you?

  1. Increase short term appetite
  2. Treat nausea and bloating
  3. Help treat and reverse dependence on the sweet taste (sweet addiciton)
  4. Support liver and gall bladder function (and therefore fat digestion and absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K)
  5. Help enzyme secretion and suppors digestion.

Almost every one of my clients is on at least a short term protocol of digestive bitters, and I would HIGHLY recommend this as the first step for YOU or YOUR child as a place to start.

Note: I use the brand Urban Moonshine: they seem to be the most gentle among those I have seen and the most suited for long term use. I don’t use brands like Swedish Bitters than contain laxatives, though I am sure they have their place in a different protocol.

If you are thinking more about the gut, I have a personalized recommendation for you. 

I highly recommend that you think check out my blog: Inflammation in children: 4 power tactics to calm and heal!

This is where we start thinking about root causes.