Probiotics and Autism


Autism is a complex developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others, with a wide range of behavioral, social, and language problems. Autism usually appears during the first three years of life.

Autism is characterized by a collection of neurobehavioral, neurological, gastrointestinal and immunological dysfunctions that include a loss of eye contact, deficiencies in socialization and communication, abnormal theory of mind function, language dysfunction, restrictive, repetitive, and stereotypical behaviors, food allergies, constipation, yeast infections and other behavioral and medical conditions.

Autism is called a “spectrum disorder” since it affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.

It is estimated that one in every 150 American children has some degree of autism with males being affected three to four times more frequently than females. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are complicated conditions that may require an integrative treatment protocol involving many factors including behavioral and social therapy, pharmacotherapy, environmental control, dietary supplements, nutritional, alternative and biomedical therapies. Many are sick with gastrointestinal, immunologic, and metabolic problems that significantly affect their behavior and their physical and emotional health. Treating the medical problems often leads to improvement in clinical signs and symptoms and, in some cases, to recovery.

Causes of Autism

There has been an exponential increase in the number of new diagnoses of autism. And there is continuing debate and controversy as to what the diagnosis ‘autism’ actually constitutes. There is even more debate and controversy as to its causes, and potential for treatment /amelioration.

The fundamental cause of Autism, based in our experience, is severe intestinal flora imbalances resulting into immune imbalances mainly due to gastrointestinal infections, antibiotics and vaccinations that in turn affect the brain. We have daily phone and e-mail contacts with parents of ASD children where parents detail causes and symptoms of Autism and treatments they undertake for their children. Our evaluation of causes of Autism is as follows.

Autism usually appears during the first three years of life. The reason is, and it is well documented, that between the ages of 0-3, the intestinal microflora of a child is not well established yet. The same can be said about the brain and nervous system. They are in a stage of formation and are fragile. During this time, if a lot of antibiotics and/or vaccinations are given, and if the immune system of a child is somewhat low, the intestinal microflora being fragile is affected negatively. As a result a toxic condition is produced in the gut that will affect the brain and the nervous system to various extents. The more toxicity in the gut the more the effect on the brain. As a result, the majority of children with Autism reveal abnormal gastrointestinal symptoms including food allergies, yeast infections, constipation.

Factors affecting Gut/Brain/Immune dysfunction and Autism are indicated in Fig. 1. These factors result into at least two types of ASD with regard to disease development: abnormal cognitive development evident from birth (classical autism); and in the majority cases developmental regression, usually between 18-36 months of age, following apparent normal development (regressive autism).

Gut/Brain/Immune Dysfunction and Autism

It is very important to understand the direct relationship between the gut and brain, especially during the first three years of life, when both are in a stage of formation. The above factors make the immune system of each child different and unique. Therefore physicians, especially pediatricians, should not treat all children alike, but on a case by case basis after careful evaluation with the parents. A detailed history should be taken that can determine, at least qualitatively, the immune system of each child. Hence the standard vaccination schedule can not be applicable, if the above factors are not evaluated and taken into consideration properly.

Gut-Brain-Immune Axis

The gastrointestinal tract is a complex ecosystem in which there is a delicate balance between the intestinal microflora and the host. A healthy gastrointestinal tract should contain a high percentage of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria beneficial bacteria to prevent the over colonization of disease causing pathogenic micro-organisms such as E. Coli, Clostridia, Salmonella and Candida.

Bidirectional interactions between the brain and intestinal microflora might have an important role in modulating gut and brain function and may be involved in the modulation of emotions, pain perception, mucosal immune activity and general well-being. The reduction of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria and overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria will be stressful to this brain/gut interactions especially for infants aged 0-3 producing neurological and immune imbalances and affecting their development. The neurological and immune systems are inextricably intertwined beginning in the embryonic stage of life. Disruption of the bidirectional interactions between the intestinal microflora and the nervous system may be involved in the pathophysiology of acute and chronic gastrointestinal and neurological disease states.

Abbreviations: ANS, autonomic nervous system; CNS, central nervous system; EMS,

emotional motor system; GI, gastrointestinal; HPA, hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal. Fig. 2 Source: Rhee, S. H. et al. Nat. Rev. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. 6, 306–314 (2009)

D-Lactate Free Probiotic powder formulation have been used specifically for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), to improving their intestinal microflora and digestive processes. D-lactate is a result of fermentation of probiotic bacteria in the digestive system.

Probiotics and Autism

Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host”. They possess the ability to transiently colonize the GI tract, increase the concentration of beneficial microbes, and thereby create a balance in the gut microbiota to the ultimate benefit of the host, in a natural and safe way.

Potential or known mechanisms whereby probiotic bacteria might impact on the microbiota include:

competition for dietary ingredients as growth substrates

bioconversion of, for example, sugars into fermentation products with inhibitory properties

production of growth substrates

direct effect on pathogens

competitive exclusion for binding sites

barrier function

reduction of inflammation, thus altering intestinal properties for colonization and persistence within, and (8) stimulation of innate immune response.

Probiotics can therefore have been used to prevent or reduce the risk of ASD for infants aged 0-3. The aim is to protect their digestive and immune systems by using probiotics at appropriate dosages prior, during and after any intervention, such as antibiotics or vaccinations, that affect negatively the intestinal microflora and immune system of the mother and infant, as indicated in Fig. 1. Choosing the correct probiotic formulation and dosages are considerations that also must be understood and followed by pediatricians and parents alike.

by Gunter Ternes