The gut and the Autism question

Autism is a delicate condition to talk about. autism As Dr Stephen Scherer, director of the Centre for Applied genomics at Toronto who has just completed the largest-ever autism genome study says ‘Each child with autism is like a snowflake – unique from all the others’. Contrary to what had been assumed – it turns out that even siblings who share the same genetic parents and a diagnosis of Autism don’t always have the same autism-linked genes. This has raised the suspicion that the mechanism that creates Autism is not only genetic even where it appears to run in families.

Dr Perlmutter points out that despite the many difference between people with autism, one thing is certain – they are all people whose brains function a little differently. It is suggested that during their early development something triggered changes in their physiology and neurology that led to this disorder.

One indicator of this is that individuals with Autism almost uniformly suffer from gastrointestinal disorders. (This is something that I have come across myself in children with Autism I have known. The expression of the behaviours associated with the autism increased as the child’s extreme constipation built up over four or five days and then, after the explosive expulsion of faecal matter, the behaviours lessened) 

Children with Autism are 3.5 times more likely to suffer from chronic constipation and diarrhoea than their peers without autism – and that a strong association between constipation and language impairment has been found.

When the contents of the guts of people suffering from Autism is examined it is found that they exhibit different patterns in their composition to that of people without Autism. The particular bacteria that are found in their guts in abundance are Clostridia, which are able to create a compound that adversely affect the immune system and brain, causing inflammation. This is Propionic Acid – PPA.

PPA has multiple deleterious effects. Firstly it makes the gut leaky – which, as we know, allows molecules that should never get through to the blood into the blood stream – including itself. When it gets into the blood stream it turns on inflammation and activates the immune system. It also affects  cell-to-cell signalling, and compromises the mitochondria, altering the brain’s ability to use energy. It also increases oxidative stress, which in turns harms proteins, cell-membranes and even DNA. If the brain is exposed to these chemicals, and the enhanced inflammation, at a formative stage it is quite possible for this to play a role in creating the autistic brain.

Clostridia bacteria also need to feed on carbohydrates – and may explain why children with Autism often crave carbohydrates, especially refined sugars, which feed these bacteria and thus create a vicious cycle.

autismAdd to this that scientist have also identified a multitude of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. If you read the earlier blog which mentioned epi-genetics then you may already be wondering if this effect is at work here. Though the work has not yet been completed, the indicators are that the epi-genetic effect could well be at work. That there may be many other people who have the possibility of being autistic within their DNA but they have not had the environmental exposure (internal or external ) to have switched on or off the genes that lead to the symptoms that are recognised as Autistic.

However, as complicated as this is it is still not the whole story  – it is far more complicated, as a condition such as Autism surely is, there is an interplay of timing of exposure, of the on-going effect of the PPA and of the chronic gastrointestinal problems it creates.

This is a huge and very complicated subject – and I have not been able to deal with it in depth – but hopefully I have picked out his main points.

If you are concerned with someone suffering from Autism then I can only recommend reading this chapter of his book (Ch 5) if you haven’t already considered the way a compromised gut-biome may be affecting the condition – it holds some hope for some cases in that, without drugs, it seems it is possible to try to even-out the bacterial balance and perhaps help alleviate, if not everything, at least some of the gastrointestinal problems. The quoted scientific experiments are very interesting in this respect – as is this case study of Jason he quotes in this chapter and on his webpage here.

Again, Dr Perlmutter’s advice for people with this condition is to avoid gluten and sugary and simple carbohydrates and to enhance the diet with live fermented foods to balance the bacteria in the gut – though more drastic measures are also suggested.

Does any of this ring bells with your experience of this condition?



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