Autism is a severe developmental disability that affects children, and their families, as well as the community. At present the causal mechanisms of autistic behaviours are still unclear but there is general agreement amongst health professionals involved in helping families and children that this disability has its basis in some type or types of functional abnormality of metabolism. It is both natural and understandable that parents, families and concerned health practitioners wish to better children’s health.Much research is currently being undertaken in the field of autism and other developmental disorders. The Behavioural Neurotherapy Clinic, in conjunction with Bioscreen has shown its commitment to ADHD and children with autism by helping to unravel the science surrounding biochemical changes found in these children. This has been done by presenting research and disseminating information at conferences such as: The 2nd International Mind of a Child conference in Sydney, Autism Victoria Annual conference in Melbourne and many others throughout Australia bringing together leading researchers and clinicians.
Children with autism usually have several gastrointestinal (GI) changes, in addition to behavioural difficulties. In the GI tract, amino acids (the building blocks of protein needed by the body), are seen to be low or deficient in those with ASD. Inflammation of the intestinal lining, and a more permeable gut are seen in studies children with ASD. Some ASD symptoms have been linked to changes in gut bacteria following treatment with antibiotics.
The clinic staff in conjunction with Bioscreen Medical Laboratory at Melbourne University has been investigating GI changes observed in abnormal faecal and urinary amino acid tests. The results of these tests help health practitioners formulate treatments for children with ASD, resulting in significant improvements in gut function and a reduction of ASD symptoms.
Bioscreen Study: Intestinal Bacteria in Children with Autism
Urinary amino acid test and Bioscreen faecal microbiology test was performed on 86 children with ASD. Results indicate a marked change in both amino acid metabolism and counts of normal intestinal bacteria found in the large intestine.
A healthy GI tract has a particular set of bacteria living within it. Normally it is difficult to change the number and type of healthy bacteria and they are remarkably stable over populations around the world, despite different environments and different diets. It is becoming widely recognised that changes in these bacteria can influence our health. This is because bacteria in our digestive tract produces vitamins and nutrients/chemicals that keep our bodies healthy. On the other hand, it is possible that if these bacteria are not normally distributed, chemicals that are unhelpful for function are produced in larger amounts and have a detrimental impact.Thus, many bacterial supplements,such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium, are now availableto keep our intestinal tract healthy when we are ill or stressed.
Aerobic and anaerobic bacteria
There are two main classes of bacteria in our large intestines: aerobic bacteria, which need some oxygen to survive, and anaerobic bacteria, which will die in the presence of oxygen. The most common aerobic bacteria, or aerobe, found in healthy individuals is Escherichia coli ( E.coli) and it accounts for around 80-90% of all the aerobic bacteria. The second most common aerobe is Enterococcus, although it is a lot less common than E.coli at an average of 5% in the gut. In Bioscreen’sASD study the average amount of E.coli was found to be low at approx. 56% compared to the normal 90-95%. In ~ 22% of the children the amount of E.coli was actually less than 10% which is an incredible finding.
There were abnormal elevations in the amount of Enterococcus found in the faeces of those with ASD. This was found to be as high as 40% in children with autism compared to the average of 5% in healthy individuals. In approx. 19% of the children the Enterococcus had almost completely swapped places with E.coli, representing 95% of the aerobic bacteria.
Changes to the anaerobeswere evident. Normally, Bacteroides and Bifidobacteria are the most abundant anaerobic bacteria in the large bowel. The study found a significant decrease in Bacteroides, and an increase in the number of Bifidobacteria in the children’s intestines compared to healthy control subjects.
What does this mean for the treatment of children with autism?
Health practitioners can utilise the Pathlab amino acid Urine test and the Bioscreen faecal tests to help identify alterations in microbiology and digestive capacity. Bioscreentest results can provide avenues for the development of treatment protocols that may involve; (a) normalisation of GI bacteria through use of specific antibiotics, replacement bacteria and nutritional supplementation (e.g. very specific probiotics and prebiotics); (b) supplementation with individualised amino-acid supplements based on deficiencies of amino acids found in the urine test and; (c) supplementation with digestive enzymes, electrolytes, and essential elements to help impaired digestion and metabolism.
Tests repeated over time can build a picture of changes that might occur with treatment and whether any significant improvements have been made. Doctors involved in the management of children with ASDuse Bioscreentestingto guide therapy with the goal of reducing behavioural symptoms.
Bioscreen faecal analysis
Faecal analysis through Bioscreen is available from health professionals with training in Nutritional and Environmental Medicine and through the Behavioural Neurotherapy Clinic.