GI problems in autism

An important new paper from Pat Levitt and colleagues reports several novel points of interest. First, this large study of 121 children found very high agreement (90%) between parental reports of symptoms and the evaluations by gastroenterologists. Thus, contrary to some opinions, parents of ASD kids did not over-report GI problems. Second, the most common GI disorder was constipation, and the presence of this symptom correlated strongly with worse social impairment an lack of language. This strongly suggests that kids with ASD, particularly non-verbal kids, should be assessed for GI problems, and treated appropriately for this condition. This might have positive effects on their ASD symptoms. Third, the frequency of various food groups in the diets of the ASD kids did not differ between ASD kids with GI problems, ASD kids without GI problems, and kids with GI problems but not ASD. This runs counter to a common conception that ASD kids have a more limited diet (although the comparison group here was kids with GI problems, not kids without GI or ASD). The authors argue therefore that dietary habits are not causing GI problems in ASD. Missing from this otherwise useful study is an examination of the frequency of GI symptoms in ASD vs typical kids. This key question still remains to be answered definitively.

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2 Responses to GI problems in autism

  1. Brielle says:

    This study begs the question of whether or not there are critical periods of gut development that overlap with potential critical periods in brain development. Looking at commonalities between the development of these two neural systems may lend some insight into the etiology of ASDs.

    • phpatterson says:

      Yes Brielle, the nature of the microbiota would possibly be more important during early childhood development, when the brain is still very plastic. The “wrong” bugs could also affect behavior in adults as well. Plenty of room for more experiments here in mice. Once a key bacterial species is identified, it could be manipulated up or down at various stages of development and behavioral outcome monitored.
      I’ve been teaching the past few weeks, so have no kept up with this blog v well.

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