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Can probiotics be beneficial for children with autism spectrum disorder?

Can probiotics be beneficial for children with autism spectrum disorder? Raw yoghurt by Belinda(Miscdebris)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder. New findings indicate that ASD is associated with gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction. Can this be used to reduce autistic symptoms?

I’ll bet you there is an aspect of Autism Spectrum disorder (ASD) you don’t know about. This was not covered by our textbooks nor is it a popular subject among scientific papers or articles.  It’s a subject nearly everyone avoids discussing. It is the high prevalence of gastrointestinal problems (GI). Children with ASD suffer from more GI problems than healthy children, specifically, a wide percentage of 9% to 70% children with ASD, a percentage that –let’s be honest- does nothing to clearly illustrate the problem at hand. The “culprit” appears to be higher levels and diversity of the Clostridium species, a bacterial probiotics species, which is a toxic producer. So, there might be a predisposition amongst children with ASD to develop GI dysfunction.

But, how is this predisposition associated with the more typical symptoms of ASD, such as decreased verbal skills and social withdrawal? Evidence suggest that there is a strong correlation between the severity of autistic symptoms and GI problems. In other words, this means that the more severe the autistic symptoms of the child, the more likely it is to suffer from severe GI problems. Furthermore, children with ASD that also experience GI problems are often more irritable, anxious, and socially withdrawn.  So, does this mean that if we treat those GI problems, we will decrease the autistic symptoms as well? And if so, how can we effectively treat GI dysfunction? The answer might already be in your refrigerator.

Enter probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that benefit the digestive system through various mechanisms. If you eat Greek yogurt and drink Kefir, you may have heard one of the most common bacterial probiotics species: Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Probiotics are used in studies in the form of oral supplements. 

Probiotics benefit the digestive system of children with ASD, by normalizing gut function. But, that’s not the interesting part. Studies have confirmed that probiotics indeed reduce autistic symptoms! A study demonstrated that 8 out of 10 children with ASD who received probiotics showed a temporary, significant improvement in autistic symptoms. But even if autistic symptoms are not reduced, chances are that the irritability and anxiety will.

In a nutshell, probiotics can reduce GI dysfunction and autistic symptoms in children with ASD. Still, even if autistic symptoms are not reduced, irritability, anxiety and general discomfort are likely to decrease after use of probiotics. So, if you’re looking for a simple way to help a child with ASD, grab a bottle of probiotics!

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