​Probiotics and Autism Spectrum Disorder | AAPC Publishing

Posted by Dr. Nihan on Sep 15th 2022

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that may affect socialization, communication, and behavior. ASD can be mild, moderate, or severe. Symptoms can vary from person to person. There are scientific studies that show the individuals with ASD may benefit from probiotics and other nutritional supplements for higher life quality.

What are probiotics, and how do they work in the body to improve health outcomes?

You may have seen the word probiotic used in commercials, food labels, or even supplements at your local pharmacy and wondered precisely what they are. Probiotics are live microorganisms (usually bacteria) like the good bacteria found naturally in our bodies. Probiotics can be found in some foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir, or they can be taken as supplements. These good bacteria play an essential role in gut health by keeping our intestines clean and free of harmful bacteria and toxins. They may also help reduce inflammation throughout the body. In addition, some research suggests that probiotics may help improve symptoms of ASD.

The immune system is one of the most critical factors for health and balanced life. A healthy gastrointestinal system is a must for the complete immune system. Unfortunately, abnormal immune system functions were reported in people with ASD. Probiotics stabilize the intestinal barrier, reduce gut inflammation and modulate the immune system.

Several clinical trials were performed on children with ASD symptoms to understand the effects of probiotics. The results support the potential probiotics benefits. Per the scientific article, ‘The Promising Role of Probiotics in Managing the Altered Gut in Autism Spectrum Disorder’ published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, in one study, probiotics supplementation improved the school records and taking a variety of food for a six-year-old boy. However, the boy’s situation and behavior reversed back when the supplementation was stopped. Another study showed that another 12-year-old boy with neurobehavioral and gastrointestinal symptoms used probiotics for four weeks. Then the signs were followed up for four months. Again, a reduction in the severity of abdominal, neurobehavioral, and gastrointestinal symptoms was reported. The studies were conducted with different types of probiotics products, including multi and single strains. The probiotics used in these studies frequently were Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

Probiotics work by restoring the balance of good bacteria in the gut. This is important because an imbalance of gut bacteria has been linked to various health problems, from mental health and behaviors to irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and even skin conditions like eczema. Probiotics are also thought to boost immunity by helping the body fight off infection-causing bacteria. But the benefits of probiotics don’t stop there! Some research has shown that probiotics can help with weight loss by reducing fat absorption, lowering blood pressure, and improving cholesterol levels.

What is the current research on the use of probiotics for ASD patients, specifically regarding interoception improvement?

The evidence for this is mixed; some studies have found that probiotic supplementation leads to improvements in mood and cognition, while other studies have found no such effects. However, some preliminary evidence suggests that probiotics may help improve interoception in people with ASD.

A 2018 study published in Advances in Nutrition screened a total of 186 articles and found that children with ASD who took a probiotic supplement experienced a decrease in symptoms compared to those who did not take a probiotic supplement. In addition, the children who took the probiotic supplement also showed reductions in gastrointestinal problems like abdominal pain, reflux, and constipation. These findings suggest that probiotic supplementation may benefit some children with ASD by improving social functioning and reducing repetitive behaviors and gastrointestinal problems.

Zhang et al. reported in 2022 (The role of probiotics in children with autism spectrum disorders: A study protocol for randomized controlled trial) that the abundance of intestinal flora in children with ASD is significantly different. Bifidobacterium is associated with the severity of ASD. Furthermore, they showed that treating the intestinal flora with probiotics greatly improved behavioral abnormalities. They also report that probiotics are much more risk-free than drugs.

In the scientific article, “Overall Rebalancing of Gut Microbiota is Key to Autism Intervention,” Lu et al. mentioned that the gut-brain axis indicates the disorder of host intestinal microbiota may be a reason for ASD. Also, there is a correlation between intestinal inflammation and immune dysfunction in ASD. In this study, the scientists listed the probiotic intervention studies for both single and mixed strains with effects on gut microbiota and effects on behavioral symptoms. The results are clearly showing that the usage of probiotics is helpful for the improvement of behavioral, sensory, communication, and physical conditions and health.

A growing body of research suggests that probiotics may be a helpful adjunct treatment for the symptoms of individuals with ASD, specifically concerning improving intestinal and immune health along with behaviors. While more studies are needed for the details of the mechanism, it is an exciting prospect that should be considered by parents and caregivers of autistic children.

If you are considering using probiotics as part of your child's treatment plan, please consult a healthcare professional first. Probiotics offer a safe and relatively inexpensive way to potentially improve the outcomes of autism spectrum disorder. Also, if you want to learn more about the mechanism and benefits of probiotics, microbiome, natural recipes, and interoception, you can read the book "The Interoceptive Mind."

Have you tried using probiotics to help improve your child with ASD?