Are Probiotics For Autism And ADHD Worth The Money, And Do They Help?
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
probiotics for Autism and ADHD
. Spoiler alert - the best probiotic for autism is not a probiotic.
Should My Autistic Child Take Probiotics?
Many people (including us) have wasted money on probiotics without seeing any benefits? Probiotics is not the most important thing to improve gut health. The key to improving your gut health is not in a pill, but in the environment you create inside your gut? The environment in the gut comes from the food you eat.
Gut health is crucial for everyone, especially for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). But the traditional approach of starting with probiotics may not be the best one? While probiotics have their benefits, they need a healthy gut environment to thrive. The real secret to a thriving gut is quality food and fibre.
Before you invest in probiotics, consider the value of prebiotics and quality food. Quality food needs to be your first choice. This is the key to creating a healthy environment for good bacteria to thrive. Adding new strains of beneficial bacteria can have positive effects on your immune system and overall health. But it's important to start with the right foundation.
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.
We should focus on giving your good bacteria the food to thrive.
Focus On Overall Digestive Health.
Just as in the human world, dominant individuals wanting to maintain their dominance will greedily take whatever they can for themselves. They manipulate the environment to suit themselves. In the gut, certain microbes will attempt to do the same. We can, however, influence the environment to strengthen the community and weaken the dominant microbes.
Our digestive system has over 100 trillion microorganisms at any given time. Supplements with 65 billion bacteria are a drop in the ocean compared to 100 trillion microorganisms 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.
We often only think of bacteria in the colon, but we have bacteria all throughout our digestive tract. Each tooth can have between 1000 (very clean mouth) and 1 billion bacteria on it. The stomach and small intestine contain bacteria, but hopefully in small amounts due to the acidity.
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).
If you, like most people, have an imbalance in the microbes in the colon, it's because there's a particular group of bacteria and yeasts that are in higher than wanted numbers. There are still 100's of billions of wanted microbes, but there happen to be far too many unwanted microbes and not enough of the good guys. Many of the bacteria strains in the probiotics are already in the colon. There are probably more already in the gut than in the probiotic, but they can't create balance. Adding more via a tablet or supplement will have little effect, and may not be value for money initially.
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.
The reason balanced diversity isn't achieved is that the environment in the colon suits the unwanted microbes. Too often, kids with Autism, eat a narrow range of foods. They don't tend to eat many foods that are fibre rich with natural colours and promote a healthy environment for gut microbes. The bad guys have an abundance of their preferred food supply, which is usually sugars.
There isn't enough fibre and prebiotic foods that the good gut microbes need.
To put it another way, the wanted microbes are starving, while the unwanted microbes are feasting.
If we provide children with probiotics for any reason, we need to take into account the whole digestive system. Yakult, for example, which is a favourite probiotic drink for kids, contains 65 billion bacteria. When you consider there are already a few billion bacteria in the mouth, and 100 trillion in the gut, they're somewhat outnumbered. They then have to survive the acidic environment of the stomach. If they eventually reach the colon, they compete for food with the other existing bacteria residing in the colon.
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.
Two main factors limit new probiotic strains' ability to colonise in most peoples' colons:
- 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.
Some people do report side effects of using probiotics such as abdominal pain, gas bloating, overstimulated immune system, constipation and the triggering of allergies. The reason why the side effects of using probiotics are reported may be that the environment of the gut hasn't been addressed first.
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 gut needs a variety of microbes to help digest a complex diet with different nutrients and fibers. These microbes work together instead of getting nutrition for themselves. 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.
To read more about quality food to heal the gut and heal Autism, I include more details in other posts. This one is a good place to start that has 4 strategies to add in your
autism treatment plans
Do Probiotics Help Autism Spectrum Disorders?
A quality probiotic could help kids with developmental issues by improving their immune system and digestive health. 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.
It is my view that before spending money on probiotics, some steps need to be taken to reduce unwanted bacteria and yeast. Work also needs to be done to create good eating habits. The role of probiotics is to increase diversity once a healthy gut environment is established. There are more important first steps to
than using probiotics.
Leaky Gut And Leaky Brain Barrier
My recommendations below are aimed primarily at healing leaky gut and improving the blood brain barrier. A good diet can reduce and eliminate leaky gut, but sometimes we want a quick and easy fix. The importance of leaky gut is often underestimated. It's probably a major factor in many inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. Eliminating leaky gut will reduce inflammation and improve the blood brain barrier, which reduces brain inflammation and improves autism.
More and more disorders are related to poor gut health. These disorders don't just manifest gastrointestinal symptoms, but may contribute to the overall collection of autism symptoms. Gut disbiosis may 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. Inflammation in the brain may cause repetitive behavior, changes in social behavior, and attention problems, which are common features associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Heal a leaky gut and you'll heal a leaky brain.
Probiotics For The Brain
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.
My recommendations are below. Please also check out our other posts about helping people with autism, such as the 4 strategies you should add to your
plans. You'll find links to all other posts below.
Which Is The Best Autism Probiotic?
For most children with autism, the focus initially should be healing the gut. To do this, we need a strong and healthy gut wall to avoid leaking gut. These recommendations are for that purpose.
The first supplement I'm talking about is not a probiotic, but it helps heal the gut wall and balance the gut microbes.
The second product is my favourite probiotic. It's relatively new and a keystone probiotic strain (it helps other beneficial bacteria thrive). It also helps heal the gut wall to prevent leaky gut, helps sugar metabolism and improves the feeling of being full after eating. This is important to
reduce cravings to eat poor quality foods.
In line with the body of this blog article above, my number one recommendation for a gut supplement is
. ION makes the list of my four most important recommendations for naturally
healing children with Autism
. My top supplement recommendation for Autism is ION. It is highly rated and supports important health strategies for Autism, particularly related to diet. Being a fairly neutral flavoured drink, it's very easy for toddlers to take.
Links To The Recommended Products
ION gets to the root of health by defending you from harmful toxins and supporting cell-to-cell communication. Stronger communication leads to a stronger gut leads to a stronger you. ION* starts at the foundation of microbiome health and lets your body's innate strength take care of the rest.
Considering how difficult it can be for toddlers to take probiotic tablets, this neutral tasting drink that promotes a healthy gut and microbiome is a great option for younger children and toddlers.
Link to ION at the iHerb Store.
Akkermansia muciniphila is a beneficial bacterium that naturally resides in our gut. It is one of the most abundant single species of bacteria, constituting 3 to 5% of the gut microbiome in healthy adults. Akkermansia plays a crucial role in maintaining gut health and has been associated with various health benefits.
One of the primary benefits of Akkermansia is its ability to support a healthy gut. This bacterium feeds off the mucus lining intestinal cells and stimulates the production of more mucus, which acts as a defence for intestinal cells against toxic particles. By breaking down mucus, Akkermansia helps reinforce the gut barrier, preventing "leaky gut" and reducing the risk of harmful substances entering the bloodstream.
Akkermansia stimulates the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like acetate, propionate, and butyrate, which have multiple benefits for gut health. These SCFAs aid in appetite regulation, nutrient utilisation, protection against inflammation, and reinforcement of the gut barrier.
Akkermansia regulates immune responses, lowers inflammation, and promotes a healthy immune system. It stimulates immune pathway genes and increases antimicrobial peptides in the digestive tract. By down regulating pro-inflammatory cytokines, Akkermansia can reduce inflammation.
Although it's likely that your child with ASD has a less diverse range of gut microbes, remember, a tablet can't do all the work. Taking probiotics alone isn't enough to improve our health. Along with a nutritious diet and a healthy lifestyle, we should consume prebiotic foods that contain dietary fibre. I also recommend you consider adding probiotic foods such as Kefir and Sauerkraut. These foods are a healthy and cost-effective way to introduce beneficial bacterium.
For more information about gut health and strategies to heal your child with Autism, please check out our other blog posts. You'll find links below.