In yet another study we can file under “things parents already kinda knew,” researchers at Columbia University have found that the bacteria in the gut of autistic children is different than that in non-autistic children. Researchers are unsure if it is a cause, or an effect, of autism.
The study was reported in the American Society for Microbiology’s publication, mBio.
A bacteria from the Sutterella group was found in 12 out of 23 tissue samples of autistic children, but was not present at all in the non-autistic children studied. Jorge Benach, Chairman of the Department of Microbiology at Stony Brook University explains: “The Sutterella bacteria has been associated with gastrointestinal diseases below the diaphragm, and whether it’s a pathogen or not is still not clear. It is not a very well-known bacterium.”
Christine A. Biron, the Brintzenhoff Professor of Medical Science at Brown University and editor of the study, said “This paper is important because it starts to advance the question of how the resident microbes interact with a disorder that is poorly understood.”
The findings are significant because digestive complications can be very serious in kids with autism, contributing to their behavioral problems, the study authors noted.
Most previous studies looking at gut bacteria issues in autistic people used stool samples, not tissue samples. These study results are more definitive than previous studies that used stool samples, because tissue samples surgically removed from the gut are more reflective of the bacteria found in the children’s intestinal walls.
While the study uncovered an association between the bacteria and autism, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, so more research is needed to explore the link between Sutterella and gastrointestinal problems in autism, the researchers said.
As the mom of a child with autism, I can certainly confirm that there is something funky about my son’s gastrointestinal system, which is totally contributing to the immense challenge of potty-training him.
I’d like to note this is a small study, and that the Suterella bacteria was not found in every autistic child they studied. However, I’m thrilled that this important area is being researched. Just as some parents of kids with ADHD have found that diet impacts their children’s behavior, tons of parents of autistic kids swear that that what their kids eat is hugely important. Many of these parents say that a gluten-free, casein-free diet helps their children, and believe that there is something wrong with how their kids’ guts absorb food.
I’m looking forward to more research, and hopefully larger studies, on Suterella and autism. Given the overlap between ADHD and autism, I’d love to know what’s cooking in my ADHD daughter’s gut, too.
(Photo credit: arztsamui)
Talk back! If you have a child with autism, how does diet impact his or her behavior and cognitive function? Have you tried the gluten-free, casein-free diet? Did it help?
For more info, Babble rounded up 25 of the Top Autism Spectrum Blogs!