14 October, 2021
Autism and Probiotics
I recommend that you address diet first, but if you don't want the read the whole blog, you can go straight to the recommended Autism Probiotic by clicking here.
Should my Autistic Child take Probiotics?
What if I told you to stop taking probiotics for now? Before you stop reading and conclude that I'm crazy, hear me out. You're probably wasting your money if you're taking probiotics as the first step. More effort needs to be put into providing an environment for good bacteria and yeast to thrive.
Most people dipping their toes into the area of gut health start with probiotics. It is worthwhile to consider probiotics in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder as a way to improve gut health. There are, however, other considerations when addressing gut health. Although we would love the solution to improving gut health to be a supplement or tablet, probiotics need a healthy gut environment to thrive. Quality food needs to be your first choice.
There are many positive effects on the immune system and the body by adding new strains of beneficial bacteria, but you may not be getting good value for money if you start with probiotics before addressing fibres and prebiotics.
Should I start with probiotics for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Probiotics are alive or spore based microorganisms often taken as a supplement and referred to as good bacteria. They are often taken to boost the immune system, aid digestion and improve gastrointestinal problems.
Probiotics are thought to be the third most commonly used dietary supplement, sitting behind vitamin and mineral supplements.
Many parents wanting to promote health in their children will provide probiotics before they increase the amount of high-quality fibre, low fructose vegetables and fruits. The choice of a probiotic is often made without much research, and parents usually simply choose yoghurt, Yakult or a less effective probiotic.
Just because there are studies suggesting links between Autism Spectrum Disorder and gut bacteria, doesn't mean the solution is probiotics. A study may link certain strains of microbes with a reduction of Autistic behaviours. Still, we need to think about how to get these strains to thrive in the gastrointestinal tract.
Focus on overall digestive health.
Our digestive system has over 100 trillion micro-organisms at any given time. Consider that supplements with 65 billion bacteria cells are a drop in the ocean compared to 100 trillion micro-organisms already there. There are steps you should take first to give this 65 Billion a fighting chance to colonise in the colon. Many probiotics have a transient effect, and won't colonise, particularly if the environment is overrun with pathogenic microbes. If the population of bacteria don't want the probiotic to be there, colonisation is less likely. They may have small effects as they pass through, however.
The colon is home to the majority of digestive system bacteria. It contains about 100 trillion bacteria cells. The bacteria composition can vary widely across the population of people. If the balance is off, the symptoms can manifest in various ways (more details in our previous post).
The reason the probiotic strains can't create balance is that the environment in the colon suits the unwanted microbes. Probiotics won't help until the environment the bacteria live in improves.
There isn't enough fibre and prebiotic foods that the good gut microbes need.
For new strains of gut bacteria to colonise, they need to find a home on the colon mucosa, where they can set up a base to grow their numbers. If they can't do that, they continue through the colon and exit.
65 Billion is a drop in the ocean. Before dropping in some more bacteria to add diversity, we need to set up the environment, so that the new bacteria stands a chance of colonising.
- The current community of microbes in the gut, don't accept the new strain or crowd them out.
- A weak environment in the colon lacks quality foods that beneficial bacteria need, and high sugars which pathogenic bacteria love.
Quality foods are more effective and cheaper than probiotics.
The role of quality foods and prebiotics must be considered. A diverse and balanced gut needs an abundance of varied and balanced food for the microbes that live there. The focus for gut healing (and related health issues), should be to provide an environment for the good microbes to thrive. The intestinal environment shouldn't provide food for individual microbes, but rather a more complex diet with various nutrients and fibres that require a community of microbes working together to digest. For example, sugar can be consumed by the dominant strain without the need for help from the community. The predominant strain can then become more dominant.
One thing that can make your quest for a healthy family diet very difficult is picky eaters (more in this post). There seems to be a lot more fussy eaters these days, which makes it very difficult for parents. I argue that poor gut health contributes to fussy eaters because microbes have a big vote on what cravings we have and what food to choose. I explained this further in the Sugar Cravings and Autism post.
Of course, food allergies can also get in the way of a healthy diet. It's possible that improving gut health and eliminating leaky gut can reduce food sensitivities, however, it does make your quest for a healthy lifestyle difficult.
Do probiotics help Autism?
A good, high quality probiotic may benefit children with developmental disorders, due to its positive effects on the immune system and digestive health as they pass through the body. Probiotics also may contribute added diversity and support to the good microorganisms that have already been colonised in the gut. As discussed above, probiotics alone won't have significant long term positive effects unless the diet and environment in the colon are addressed.
Probiotics and the brain
More and more disorders are related to poor gut health. These disorders don't just manifest symptoms in the gut but affect many areas of the body, including the brain.
A healthy gut microbiome can help keep our brains functioning properly. It not only helps us absorb nutrients better, that supports brain health, a healthy gut can reduce toxins entering the body. Leaky gut is a condition allowing particles to pass into the bloodstream that shouldn't. Scientists that study this phenomenon often find that people with a leaky gut often also have a leaky brain barrier.
A leaky brain barrier can result in unwanted particles entering the brain, resulting in inflammation and reduced function. This could be a significant factor in Autistic children, who often show increased brain inflammation. This brain inflammation could be a significant factor in symptoms such as repetitive behaviour, altered social behaviours and attention issues, which are some core symptoms of ASD.
We still need more clinical trials looking at the effects of probiotics, however, multiple clinical studies have shown promising results for adding diversity using probiotics. Studies show that probiotics may improve aspects of brain function such as social behaviour and mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. Probiotics have been shown to influence several neurotransmitters such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin.
Which is the best Autism probiotic?
If there was a prize for the most researched Autism probiotic strain, it would be Lactobacillus Reuteri. L. Reuteri is commonly found in probiotics targeting autism treatment, due to studies indicating its positive effects on social interactions.
Floratrex is the probiotic that I recommend for L. Reuteri. Floratrex has 25 high-quality strains, including L. Reuteri, aimed at balancing the gut and reducing the less desired bacteria and yeasts. You can find out more about Floratrex by clicking on the link below.
Another probiotic strain I like is Lactobacillus Helveticus for its health benefits. It has been shown to improve anxiety, depression, sleep and social behaviours.
Although it's likely that your child with ASD has a less diverse range of gut microbes, remember, a tablet can't do all of the work. Using probiotics is just one of the ways health can be improved in combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle.