Tag Archives: autism spectrum

Why Diet and Gut Bacterial Symbionts may be the most important thing you learn about Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism is a neurobehavioral condition that has been dramatically on the rise in the last decade. There are many factors that contribute to its causes, but none so pervasive as gut bacterial imbalance. To see the connections, you first have to realize that our brain development is heavily influenced by the interaction between our gut bacterial symbionts, our immune system, and those little cell organelles that produce energy-known as mitochondria. I explained at length how the gut bacteria influence brain development in The Symbiont Factor; in short there are many pathways for influence including gut bacterial alteration of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor or BDNF. This substance is necessary for proper nerve growth and development, and a deficiency or imbalance in gut bacteria results in a reduced level of BDNF. New research has shown another factor in brain development, Short Chain Fatty Acids or SCFA. This substance is produced by bacterial fermentation of carbohydrates (sweets, essentially!)  Eating too many carbohydrates results in increased populations of the gut bacteria that thrive on sugars, including Clostrida, desulfovibrio, and Bacteroides. When these bacteria ferment carbs, they produce high levels of SCFA including propionic acid which is one SCFA. Propionic acid is also a common food preservative in prepared foods, so read your ingredients and eat organic as much as possible. New research has shown that high propionic acid levels interfere with mitochondrial function, reducing the energy available for nerve cell function and producing ASD. It is important to understand that some of the organisms that produce propionic acid are not necessarily pathogens; more like “frenemies” in this case (see Jerry Seinfeld; friend + enemy, and a good laugh too) Establishing and maintaining a microbial balance is really a more accurate way to state the goal. The overuse of vaccines and antibiotics in children, combined with chemicals in packaged food and toxins in farm-raised food are all factors that conspire to imbalance our gut bacteria. It is worth noting that reduced mitochondrial function also results in elevated oxidative stress, which is the neuroinflammatory/degenerative process that drives many diseases from fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome to Parkinson’s, dementia, and aging in general. Significant variables that we can influence include diet (less sweets, more organic fruits and veggies and organic grassfed meat; organic Paleo diet essentially) and behavior. Pushing ourselves past the point of fatigue, or allowing small children to stay “in overdrive” too long with video games and sweets, causes more bacterial imbalance and neurologic dysfunction. Many supplements, from Curcumin and probiotics with Lactobacillus and Bifido species, to fermented foods and drinks such as GoodBelly and Lifeway Kefir, can help to build and maintain healthy levels of gut bacteria and give our kids the best chance possible of good health and function. The next time a stranger at the bank drive through offers your child “a sucker”, consider the potential effects of regular sugar ingestion on a child’s microbiome and brain function. Really!

For much more about the role of diet and gut symbiont bacteria on brain development, behavior and health, please check out my book The Symbiont Factor: http://tinyurl.com/qyg85t9










Autism, Gut Bacteria and the HPA Axis-What is the connection?

The HPA axis is not a part of the body that is often discussed. It is a functional “axis” that is used to describe the relationship between three parts of the body: the Hypothalamus, the Pituitary gland, and the Adrenal glands. All three of these organs have critical functions with far-reaching implications for physical and mental health. Many psychiatric drugs have been found to affect the HPA axis, resulting in the therapeutic benefit of the drug. Imbalances in HPA function have been implicated in a wide array of neuropsychiatric conditions including in autism. The gut microbiome, gut bacteria, exert control over the development and function of the endocrine hormone system, in particular the HPA axis. Why does this matter? Because imbalances in gut bacteria can therefore result in imbalances in HPA axis development in early life-and this imbalance has the potential to make the person develop autism (as well as other problems in different individuals). It is important because the gut bacteria are so vulnerable to birth practices (c-section vs. natural), antibiotic use, antibiotics in food, pesticides, herbicides such as RoundUp, and even stress levels perceived by the individual. Higher stress is harmful to the gut bacteria through alterations of the digestive functions, secondary to autonomic nervous system imbalance (more sympathetic, or “fight-or-flight”, function).  Many of these are factors under our influence if not control! Gut bacterial populations are one of the most variable factors in human health, and yet one of the most neglected. My work on The Symbiont Factor is my contribution to spreading knowledge about the gut microbiome, so that more people can take control of their health and more conditions like autism can hopefully be prevented or successfully treated. The book is being configured/edited/reconfigured/formatted so that it works well on all Kindle download platforms, a task that is keeping me quite busy the last two weeks! Almost there, almost there…It will be so exciting when it is finally published! The book will also be available as a print format following its release as an e-book. Until then, stay tuned in and take care of your gut bacteria!










And, best of all, a slide show from one of the head researchers in the field, Ted Dinan: http://www.genome.gov/Multimedia/Slides/HumanMicrobiomeScience2013/33_Dinan.pdf