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Autism on the rise? Look at the Gut

Autism rates continue to rise, where 1 in 150 were diagnosed in 2000, and now has jumped to 1 in 68 in 2010. Although health care providers are recognizing signs and symptoms of autism sooner, better diagnosis isn’t the reason for this rise. It’s not the measles vaccine either, especially with the recent comeback of measles due to the drop in childhood vaccinations. This rise in autism actually may be from your gut – the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Recent studies point to the role of beneficial gut bacteria, aka probiotics, and the role of GI issues in autistic kids.


Good bacteria = healthy brain

In a 2013 Arizona State University study, researchers compared gut bacteria from stool samples between 20 healthy kids and 20 autistic kids between ages 3 and 16. What researchers found was interesting: A diverse gut correlated with a healthy gut (and brain, apparently). Basically, a less diverse gut flora corresponded with autistic symptoms.


Autistic kids and stomach problems

There’s more evidence pointing to the gut. A 2014 review in the journal Pediatrics found that autistic kids experience more GI problems like stomach pain, constipation and diarrhea, than other kids their age. And a 2013 study in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, showed that once you made diet changes to relieve GI issues, communication, attention and hyperactivity all improved.


Dairy and gluten link?

There aren’t enough good studies correlating less autistic signs after eliminating dairy and wheat yet. There was a study that pointed out that autistic kids who did have GI issues actually did better eliminating gluten and dairy (although parents of autistic kids without any GI issues found no improvement in behavior). However, with the large amount of GI issues in autistic children, why not try and eliminate wheat and dairy anyway? Many people without autism in general feel better when they avoid these two common food allergies. Many patients I’ve treated report improvements in health such as less GI issues, better skin, less pain, and even better energy off wheat and dairy.


If your child has autism, it’s important to look at their gut health. Look for a health care provider experienced in food allergy testing as well as stool testing. We do these tests routinely at our clinic as we see the importance a healthy GI tract. These tests assess digestion, inflammation, and measures amounts of pathogenic and beneficial gut bacteria. With the continued rise in autism, we need to at least address the gastrointestinal tract. Plus, I don’t see any harm in avoiding gluten and dairy for a few weeks.


Michael Corsilles, ND, PA-C