The scientific community has termed the gut microbiota as the forgotten organ. It plays an indispensable role in our health and wellbeing. It is teeming with diversity, including trillions of microbes that span thousands of species.
When this microbial ecosystem experiences persistent imbalance, a gut dysbiosis arises. This dysbiosis is known to be associated with a host of health consequences, including gastrointestinal discomfort, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular issues, and more.
Researchers have also discovered a link between gut dysbiosis and autism. These gut issues can cause immense discomfort among the autism community and prompt thorough review. They may shed valuable insights into novel therapeutic applications for some of the challenges that autistic people can face.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), also known as autism, affects nearly 5.5 million adults in the United States. The Autism Self Advocacy Network describes that the condition affects everyone in the community in varied ways, but many share differences in how they think, process senses, move, communicate, and socialize.
What does autism have to do with the gut? Many among the autistic community experience a variety of gut issues. Some common ones include:
increased intestinal membrane permeability, or “leaky gut”
Their severity also correlates with the intensity of how people can experience autism, largely due to the biological phenomenon called the Gut-Brain Axis. The Gut-Brain Axis is a term coined to describe the bidirectional communication between the brain and the gut microbiome. Scientists all over the world are actively uncovering more about the model and evaluating how it can be applied to therapeutic strategies for a collection of gastrointestinal (GI), psychiatric, and neurologic conditions.
Why is the Autistic community prone to gut issues? First, let’s understand more about what exactly gut dysbiosis is. Simply put, a gut dysbiosis occurs from a prolonged imbalance within the gut microbiome. Three main factors can contribute to gut dysbiosis:
depletion of commensal (beneficial) organisms
excessive growth of potentially harmful organisms
loss of overall microbiome diversity
The autism community’s dysbiosis is characterized by changes in the relative abundance of certain microbe species, namely decreases in certain commensal bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Prevotella, as well as increases in potentially harmful bacteria such as Proteobacteria and Clostridioides. Gut dysbiosis’s prevalence within the ASD community is thought to be a contributing factor for many of their shared experiences with common gut issues.
Healing the Gut
The association between autism and gut dysbiosis suggests potential in a therapeutic that restores the gut from dysbiosis. Emerging research with animal and human models corroborates this, including one study that found that treatment with a mix of 10 probiotic species provided durable relief from GI-related symptoms associated with autism.
One parent of an autistic child on Floré also reported promising results for the therapeutic applications of custom probiotics for autism.
Interested in learning more about ongoing research on the link between autism and gut dysbiosis and curious how you may be able to contribute? Sun Genomics has partnered with Arizona State University’s Autism/Asperger’s Research Program and the Biodesign Institute to uncover more of the potential connection between autism and the gut microbiome. Check out more information about our project here!