In particular, the researchers found that the intestines of autistic-like mice were "leaky" (heard of "leaky gut" syndrome?), and that allowed material to pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream (material that normal would NOT enter the body if the intestinal lining were intact and healthy). This leaky gut is a characteristic that has been reported in some ASD patients.
While it's been known for some time that ASD patients have disturbances in the gut, this study is apparently the first to demonstrate that changing the gut bacteria can influence autism-like behaviours (at least in a mouse model). The researchers also showed that mice given Bacteroides fragilis (a probiotic in animal models of GI disorders) reversed the leaky gut and the mice showed behaviour changes consistent with reduced ASD symptoms. More specifically, mice fed the probiotic were more likely to communicate with other mice, had reduced anxiety levels, and were less likely to engage in a repetitive digging behaviour.
This suggests that GI problems could contribute to particular symptoms in neurodevelopmental disorders, which is not necessarily brand new news since we've been hearing a lot about the gut-brain axis in recent years.
Much more work needs to be done on human ASD--largely because both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the disorder. As for the mouse model used in this study, it really only reproduces the environmental component, and considering autism is such a heterogeneous disorder, the genetic and environmental contributions could be different between each individual (meaning therapy would really need to be individualized).
Nonetheless, there are many other health benefits to probiotics and even other products that can heal the intestinal lining, so we can at least take a generalized approach to addressing digestive health in relation to mental health, before further research reveals the specifics.
...and when those details get teased out, you'll read about them here, if you subscribe to Know Guff.
Source: Microbiota Modulate Behavioral and Physiological Abnormalities Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders
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