Is medicine better able to spot signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or is the incidence of this challenging developmental disability actually growing?

It’s a question without a concrete answer…

Although the numbers remained stable from 2010 to 2012 according to the most recent CDC stats (2012), autism affects 1 in 68 children, and it’s some 450 percent more common among boys than girls.

Despite this lack of clarity, fortunately, researchers have identified a pretty common problem kids across the spectrum share: Gastrointestinal challenges that could be related to taking too many antibiotics, thus reducing their microbial diversity too early in their young lives.

A pair of recent studies highlighted the range of gut-based treatments that may soon tame the effects of autism.

 

Going the fecal transplant route

A research team from Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and Ohio State University experienced success treating a small group of 18 kids using fecal transplants, according to a study appearing in Microbiome.

Over 10 weeks, this young group of patients, ranging in age from 7-16, were treated with a bowel cleanse and two weeks of antibiotics, followed by daily fecal transplants for eight weeks.

The treatment regimen was effective, as it improved gastrointestinal symptoms by some 80 percent along with gut microbial diversity and calmed autistic behaviors by around 25 percent. And, that gut diversity held after treatments ended too.

But, there’s a couple of caveats to consider about this study too. For starters, there was no side-by-side placebo trial that would demonstrate if doing nothing made a difference too. That’s not a big deal.

The larger concerns, however, are the unintended consequences of having a fecal transplant in the first place, like receiving gut bacteria from someone who may be reasonably healthy but overweight then acquiring that same health problem.

Also, these risks can be especially tricky when patients attempt to take matters into their own hands by trying to replicate these treatments, a real problem researchers have acknowledged.

 

A dietary/probiotic solution?

The lack of diversity in the gut was important to another study, this time with mice bred to exhibit autism-like behaviors, according to a 2016 report by Baylor College of Medicine researchers appearing Cell.

Based on sequencing long strands of DNA, the offspring of mice moms fed high-fat diets were severely lacking in Lactobacillus reuteri in their guts by a factor of nine.

Restoring that balance lessened some autistic behaviors and boosted the production of oxytocin, a hormone that acts like a neurotransmitter in the brain and a facilitator of bonding

Researchers speculate this genus of Lactobacillus may provide a basis for treating human neurodevelopmental issues in the form of a probiotic.

Treating neurodevelopmental issues with a probiotic, ideally a product made of multiple strains of beneficial bacteria like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic, certainly seems more ideal and much safer than taking drugs or undergoing treatments that may not yield the best results.