Is there a link? Autism Spectrum Disorder, Gut Microbiota and Probiotics

Shannon and her son, who takes probiotics and has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) impair an individual’s ability to communicate and can affect the ability to form relationships easily. ASD’s often include repetitive behaviors or intense restricted interests and can be accompanied by intellectual disorders or mental health and medical issues [1].

ASD seems to be the result of a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors of which the gut microbiota seems to be an important environmental factor [2].  However, the root causes are poorly understood and patients often express their limitations in widely different ways, hence the word ‘spectrum.’

Gut Symptoms and Autism, Future Therapies

Many individuals diagnosed with autism also have gastrointestinal (GI) ailments of one sort or another [2,3,4].  These GI symptoms can include constipation, acid reflux, and chronic diarrhea. Although the specific pathways are unclear, the general consensus is that there is a connection between the gut microbiota and ASD [3, 4].  There may even be a correlation between the severity of behavioral symptoms and the presence and severity of GI symptoms [4].

Increasingly, the medical research community is discovering the complex interaction of the gut and the brain, a connection that is the termed the gut-brain axis.  In fact, there are more than 100 million neural connections in the gut and it is sometimes called the “second brain” or “downstairs brain” [5].

Since autism is a neurological disorder this connection is getting increasing attention.  Recent studies have found a metabolic connection between the gut microbes of mice and their neurological development [3]. Another recent study observed a 25% decrease in behavioral symptoms and an 80% decrease in GI symptoms following an 8 week course of fecal transplant therapy following antibiotics and a bowel cleanse [2].  This was human study but not blinded and on a small population of individuals with ASD, ages 7-17, and therefore limiting how we can analyze this information [2].

While these results are exciting, it is important to note that there is no cure for autism and even this potential therapy is in it’s infancy.  However, future therapies may include altering the gut microbiota in one way or another.

Probiotics and the Gut Symptoms of ASD

Probiotics do not offer a cure for autism.  However, probiotics have the potential to provide GI benefits and help alleviate some symptoms common to ASD individuals.

Shannon Cooper, a mother with a child who ranks severe on the Autism Spectrum, spoke to us about her experience with probiotics.  Her 13 year old son has suffered from constipation, acid reflux and a serious dairy intolerance.  She has changed his diet to exclude all dairy, including foods with any dairy product added to it at all.

Shannon has had her son on probiotics most all of his life.  She clearly knows that some products work and others do not.  H2PROTM flavorless works well in her son’s applesauce to get him the probiotics that help moderate his GI symptoms.  She also supplements with fiber to help keep her son’s gut healthy.  Fiber is ‘prebiotic’ and helps feed our gut microbiota.

One of the benefits of H2PROTM is that the flavorless powder can be added to foods without the child’s knowledge. The powder form is itself an additional benefit for people who cannot take a pill form, like Shannon’s son.  Since probiotics have been shown to help prevent and treat both diarrhea and constipation, it makes sense that Shannon would appreciate the benefits of probiotics on her son’s health.

Autism in your Neighborhood

Autism is in your neighborhood.  The CDC estimates that 1 in 68 children have autism. The rate is higher in boys than in girls.  Shannon told us the hardest part of educating the public is that they rush to judgement.  She says people often assume the coping behaviors of her son are due to poor parenting when really they are much more complicated.

Just like gut microbiota science, we can’t judge the whole picture based on a tiny snippet of science, or on behaviors we see in a moment or two.  As science begins to untangle the complicated causes of autism perhaps, in our lifetime, we will see novel therapies to help families and individuals with autism cope with their individual symptoms and challenges, both medical and behavioral.

#LoveYourGuts, #LoveYourNeighbor



1- Autism

2- Kang et al. (2017) Microbiota Transfer Therapy alters gut ecosystem and improves gastrointestinal and autism symptoms: an open-label study. Microbiome. 5 (10).

3- Mulle et all. (2013) The Gut Microbiome: A New Frontier in Autism Research. Current Psychology Reports Feb; 15(2): 337.

4- Krajmalnik-Brown et al. (2015) Gut bacteria in children with autism spectrum disorders: challenges and promise of studying how a complex community influences a complex disease. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. Vol. 26.

5-  Hadhazy, Adam (2010) Think Twice: How the Gut’s “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well-Being. Scientific American.


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