Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Reading the Research: Targeting the Gut to Treat Autism

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations. 

Today's research is less focused on the brain side of things, and more on the intestines: Treating Autism by Targeting the Gut

Why?  Well, as it turns out, the various organisms that live in your gut have a major impact on your mind, mood, and metabolism.  If you have a good balance of many kinds of bacteria, you'll feel good and function well.  If not, you'll function much more poorly.  This is particularly obvious in people on the autism spectrum, since we tend to be very sensitive to changes in diet and environment.  (Some people call autistic people "the canary in the coal mine" for this reason.)  However, the diversity of the gut bacteria in the whole US population has been declining since fast food and sugar became major parts of our diet. 

This study was apparently done in China, which makes me wonder what the researchers in the US are doing instead... but from my personal experience, the link is sound.  Eat better food, take good quality probiotics, and my gut will be healthy and my mind less stressed, anxious, and depressed.  At this very moment, I have two kinds of probiotics in my refrigerator, which I'm using to rehabilitate my gut.  Once I've managed that, I'll go back into more of a holding pattern, with one of each per week. 

While the article here suggests a direct link between changing the gut bacteria and sociability/social behavior in autism, I think that's a mite simplistic.  Most likely, restoring the gut bacteria to healthy levels and balances increases that person's energy and reduces the anxiety and depression, which then allows them to devote more energy to social pastimes and behaviors they wouldn't otherwise be able to manage.  While this can be reduced to "good gut bacteria = more sociability" I think it's important to know why that occurs, so if it doesn't, you know what things to try next.  Like, say, social skills training, or increasing personal agency and locus of control. 

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