Probiotics and autism

It is well known that autistic children often suffer from gastrointestinal discomfort, bloating and diarrhoea or constipation, and it has been discovered recently that the intestines of autistic children tend to contain a higher number of the Clostridium histolyticum group of bacteria than is found in healthy children.

Clostridia are well-known producers of toxins, including neurotoxins, which may contribute to gut disfunction, may also have a systemic effect and could potentially be a contributory factor in the development of autism.

Researchers at the Food Microbiology Sciences Unit at Reading University have developed a probiotic specifically to reduce the levels of clostridia and promote 'friendly' bacteria instead, and they recently mounted a trial to assess precisely what effects this would have on autistic children.

Forty children, aged 4 to 8 were selected and half were given Lactobacillus plantanum in a powder, once a day, whilst the rest received a sham 'probiotic'.

As this was a 'blind' study, none of the participants knew which product they were getting, but it appears that the reduction of autistic symptoms in the children who were taking the L. plantanum was so remarkable to their parents that, when the time came in the study for the groups to switch and for those who had been taking the real probiotic to begin taking the sham product, the parents refused to accept anything other than the genuine probiotic!

Inevitably, the trial collapsed due to the large number of drop-outs and no firm conclusions could be drawn in a 'scientific' sense, although a very clear 'result' may be obvious to many!

A new trial is to be mounted that should answer some of the remaining questions, such as whether the obvious improvement in both concentration and behaviour was due simply to the fact that the children felt better, and were therefore more able to concentrate and behave more normally, or whether this was due to some other change brought about by the probiotic.


First Published in January 2007

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