In recent years there’s been more of a push to find out more about autism, diet and the gut. In particular, some of the discussion has centered on how all of these correlate to autism.
So is there a link? And if so, what is the relationship between them, and what does it all mean? Well, here are a few things you need to understand about autism, diet, and the gut. Let’s take a closer look.
Microbes and the Body
As we know, the body is a complex entity comprised of many different organs. On a micro level, these organs are made up of small cells. Not only are our organs composed of cells, but there are also other types of cells that live inside our organs. It is estimated that our bodies host trillions of microscopic organisms call microbes. Many of these microbes live in the gut.
What’s the Gut and why it’s Important
The gut is shorthand for the gastrointestinal system. These organs handle digestion. The gut contains a community of microbes that significantly influence growth and development. And its precisely because of this activity that research is currently being done.
Keep in mind that autism is a developmental disability. And if the gut plays a role in one’s development, could this somehow relate to autism? Well, this is the question that researchers are exploring. They are trying to discover what correlations exist between one’s diet, the gut, and autism.
Autism, Diet & the Gut Imbalances
As we know, autism can look very different from person to person. But for individuals with autism, there are some common ways that the gut is affected. It’s estimated that over 90% of children with autism have some sort of feeding issues. Let’s take a quick look at these.
It’s well known that individuals with autism are vulnerable to allergies. These could include respiratory allergies (watery eyes, itching, sneezing) or skin allergy (rashes). But food allergies can also be a prevalent issue. This could include sensitivity to items such as soy, wheat, dairy, fish, shellfish, or nuts.
Dysphagia is the term describing a chronic swallowing disorder. It has been noted that autistic individuals frequently have this condition. Long term, ongoing difficulty with swallowing can lead to digestive problems.
Medication Side Effects
Medication is a normal part of life for many with autism. And as we know, most medications have side effects. One of those side effects is the loss of appetite. This directly impacts food consumption, which also affects the gut.
Limited Food Selection
Otherwise known as picky eating, other individuals have limited food selection. These individuals have particularities about certain features such as colors, textures or smells. In turn, this restriction also impacts the amount of food one consumes.
Not Eating Enough
There can be a host of reasons why some autistic individuals don’t eat enough. One’s allergies may account for the deficiency of food intake. Another might be the tendency to become preoccupied, for example, with repetitive behaviors. These factors do have an effect on one’s appetite, thus impacting food consumption.
Marked by infrequent, hard, or large bowel movements, constipation affects many with autism. Often constipation results from issues related to an imbalanced diet. All of the above factors can contribute to ongoing constipation issues.
It’s not uncommon for the autistic individual to experience one or several of the above. And the common trait is that these all affect the gut. It is estimated that over 70% of individuals with autism have gut-related problems. Seeing this correlation, researchers believe that toxins in the gut may provide insight.
Recent studies tend to focus on the imbalance of microbes in the gut. Researchers understand the gut to impact mood and health. They often refer to the “gut-brain axis” or “gut-brain connection.” These terms refer to the connection and communication between the brain and the gut. Researchers suggest that the proper balance of gut bacteria can ease autistic behaviors.
Conclusion: The Gut, Diet & Autism
So given the information above, much of the attention has now been on the diet of the autistic individual. And the question is, can one’s diet actually have a positive impact on autism? Is it possible that the right balance of gut microbes can reduce autistic behaviors?
Well, in short, there’s a lot more research needed in this area. But researchers seem to think that promising answers lie in balancing gut microbes. For example, this study suggests that a proper balance can reduce anxiety and irritability. Research also indicates that probiotics have been effective in reducing gut-related issues.
Researchers seem to be very confident about what the future holds. Based on their data, they believe further studies will shed more light on the gut and its impact on the body. And this has great potential to benefit those affected by autism.
A.D. Daisley holds a Masters Degree from the University of Central Florida and has been working in the field as a Behavior Analyst since 2005. He has provided services to children and adults with varying diagnoses such as autism, mental retardation, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). His scope of experience also includes coordinating therapy to individuals and families in conjunction with other supports including School Teachers, Adult Day Training Facility Staff (ADT’s) and Speech/Occupational therapists. He is the Director and Behavior Analyst at Alternative Outcomes since 2007. A.D is also the Director of Creátre, a non-profit organization that uses the arts for the purpose of skill training, outreach and to display community leadership.