In Brief
After studies over the course of 50 years have found a correlation between gut bacteria and autism, researchers are now rallying for more large-scale tests to be performed to see how strong the link is.

Autism and Diet

Researchers have explored 150 papers, written since the 1960’s, that have reported links between the composition of bacteria in the gut and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) — triggering a call for new, large-scale studies into possibly treating ASD by focusing on gut microbiota. This link is strengthened by diarrhea, constipation, and flatulence being a “common comorbidity (a co-occurring disease) in patients with autism spectrum disorder,” with 85 percent of cases complaining of constipation.

The findings in multiple papers support the idea of a brain/gut axis in early infancy. The bacteria in the gut influences the permeability of the stomach lining as well as what is ultimately assimilated into the bloodstream. Therefore, it has an impact on whether toxins, by-products, or even undigested food reach the brain.

This bacterial imbalance could be caused by environmental as well as genetic factors. According to Dr Qinrui Li of Peking University, the environmental factors could “include the overuse of antibiotics in babies, maternal obesity and diabetes during pregnancy, how a baby is delivered and how long it is breastfed.”

What Does This Mean for ASD Sufferers?

Should these suggested large-scale trials support the link, this could be a major breakthrough for individuals and families struggling with ASD because currently, “there are no effective therapies for ASD.” This could ultimately lead to a way to, at the very least, treat some of what is causing ASD rather than just dealing with its consequences.

When compared to past and present ASD treatment, which consists of medication, special education programs, and behavioral intervention, treatments focusing on the gut —such as changing diet, and taking antibiotics as well as pro and prebiotics — are less invasive and, if future research supports it, have the potential to be life-altering.

This is the second (recent) promising body of ASD research that has been shaped by compiling the findings of previous studies: the first being a learning AI that was taught to look for ASD symptoms, which proved to be 96% successful in testing.