Autism is often linked to gastrointestinal problems. Recent studies have revealed a high prevalence not only in gastrointestinal symptoms, but also signs of inflammation, gut permeability and decreased enzymatic activity in children on the autism spectrum.

In fact, according to the journal of pediatrics, “Surveys published in the gastroenterology literature have stated that gastrointestinal problems, such as chronic constipation or diarrhea, occur in 46% to 85% of children with ASDs.”

New results published in the journal mBio reveal that there’s a type of bacteria in autistic children’s gut that isn’t found in the gut of typical children. This bacteria strain, called Sutterella, lives on the intestinal wall and can’t be detected with stool samples. While it’s still unclear why autistic children have Sutterella bacteria and its role in autism, researchers from the Harvard Medical School report that autistic children with gastrointestinal problems have altered expression of genes involved in digestion. Those genes are responsible for the enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism.

Besides Sutterella bacteria and genes, digestive problems of children with ASDs could be also attributed to the following:

Potential causes of digestive discomfort:

  • Food allergies
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Enzyme deficiency
  • Dysbiosis – or an imbalance in the good bacteria of the digestive tract
  • Yeast overgrowth
  • Essential fatty acid deficiency

Gastrointestinal problems in autistic children can lead to increased behavioral problems such as head banging, tantrums, stereotypic behaviors like hand flapping, tapping ears, rocking back and forth, etc.

This could explain why some parents see behavioral improvement with a specific diet, or with the help of different supplements such as enzymes, essential fatty acids, vitamins or probiotics.

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