The key to fighting autism might be lurking in the gut.
Researchers have focused on the gut microbiome to find the key to fighting autism spectrum disorder.
Prior reports demonstrated that children with autism generally had fewer types of vital bacteria in their guts and less bacteria diversity overall — something experts often attribute to the many antibiotics autistic kids are prescribed from ages 1 to 3.
To test the hypothesis, teams from Arizona State University, Ohio State University, and the University of Minnesota conducted a small study including 18 children from 7 to 16 years who had autism spectrum disorder and moderate-to-severe gastrointestinal problems.
Researchers used fecal matter transplants (microbiota transfer therapy) to search for effective autism treatments by improving the gut microbiome. The children were first administered a two-week course of antibiotics to flush out as much of their existing gut flora. They were next given an initial high-dose of fecal transplant in liquid form, and during the following seven to eight weeks, the kids were able to drink smoothies blended with a lower-dose powder.
The researchers also asked parents to complete questionnaires to assess communication, hyperactivity, irritability, social skills, and other measures. The questionnaires showed improvement in 17 autism-related symptoms. Results from the children’s doctors’ diagnostic evaluations reported indicated that doctor-reported symptoms had decreased by 22% at the end of treatment and 24% eight weeks after treatment ended.
This team noted a significant improvement in behavioral symptoms and gastrointestinal distress after the children underwent fecal transplants and subsequent treatment that lasted at least eight weeks following the treatment. The specific improvements parents reported included:
While the results may seem compelling, researchers understand the necessity for further research with larger cohorts before establishing this method as a standard approach.
According to the experts, the scientists are now hoping to understand the cellular-level details of why patients who undergo fecal transplants for different conditions like Clostridium difficile actually see improvement. The authors concluded, “Doctors know how it works, just not how.”