Gut Microbiome Plays Role In Autism, Study Finds

According to a new study, autism spectrum disorder is related to changes in the gut microbiome. (1)

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability. It can cause varying levels of social, communication and behavioral differences which can cause severe challenges. However, many people with ASD are also considered “gifted”. There are several conditions that fall under ASD, including: (2)

  • Autistic disorder
  • Pervasive developmental disorder
  • Asperger syndrome

Although each condition is individually diagnosed, they are all considered autism spectrum disorder. (2)

What Is Gut Microbiome?

The gut microbiome lives in our gastrointestinal tract. It is made up of a mix of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi, and assists with many of our body’s processes including:

  • Nutrient and mineral absorption
  • Synthesis of enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids
  • Production of short-chain fatty acids 
  • Protection against pathogens

However, more and more studies are finding our individual gut microbiota can contribute to our overall health, and in some cases increase risk for certain health conditions. (3)

Microbiome And Autism Study

Researchers looked at the gut microbiome in those with autism spectrum disorder and neurotypical controls in Arizona and Colorado. They found the gut microbiome composition was different between the groups. As well, their gastrointestinal symptoms were higher in those with autism than those without. However, interestingly, this was only true in those in Arizona. (1)

“Longitudinally, we were able to see that within an individual, changes in the microbiome were associated with changes in behavior,” says principal study investigator Catherine Lozupone, PhD, a microbiologist in the Department of Medicine, University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, Colorado. “If we are going to understand the link between the gut microbiome and autism, we need more collaborative efforts across different regions and centers to get really thorough generalizable information about this relationship.” (1)

Microbiome And Autism Relationship

The study also evaluated the gut microbiome’s relationship to autism behavioral severity, diet, and gastrointestinal symptoms longitudinally in Colorado. “We reached out to study participants every three months or so and had them fill out a number of checklists, one being the aberrant behavior checklist which looks at behaviors that are associated like inappropriate speech and repetitive motions,” says Dr. Lozupone. “A food frequency questionnaire asked participants what they were eating in the past week. We also asked what types of GI symptoms participants were experiencing. We obtained fecal samples to look at the microbiome. We collected all this data to see how it related to each other.” (1)

Microbiome And Autism Study

Researchers found decreased gut microbiome diversity was tied to different levels of lethargy/social withdrawal related to the degree of change in gut microbiome composition as well as worsening of inappropriate speech between time points. (1)

“We need more research, but our work shows that the gut microbiome is playing a role in the provocation of symptoms in kids with autism spectrum disorder,” says Dr. Lozupone. “This further supports the fact that the gut microbiome could be a valuable therapeutic target for children with autism spectrum disorders. I know that some labs have been exploring things like fecal microbiome transplant in these children and having some promising results.” (1)



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