Autistic Children Have Unique Gut Microbes: Study

Autistic Children Have Unique Gut Microbes: Study
Students attend a class at a middle school. (Philippe Lopez/AFP file photo via Getty Images)

Children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have altered microbial populations in their digestive tracts, which could pave the way for new diagnostic and therapeutic opportunities, according to a new study.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the Nature Microbiology journal on July 8, investigated the association between autism and gut microbiome—microbes in the human digestive tract.

Fecal samples were taken from 1,627 children from Hong Kong, some who had autism and others who didn’t. The children were aged 1 to 13 years, with nearly 25 percent females.

Researchers discovered that “14 archaea, 51 bacteria, 7 fungi, 18 viruses, 27 microbial genes, and 12 metabolic pathways were altered” in autistic children.

“This study provides compelling evidence of the gut microbiome’s role in ASD and highlights the potential for innovative diagnostic and therapeutic approaches,” Prof. Qi Su, an author of the study, told The Epoch Times in an email.

Researchers proposed that the gut microbiome could become a non-invasive diagnostic tool for autism.

Mr. Qi pointed out that autism is typically diagnosed during early childhood, making an analysis of gut microbiome “particularly relevant” among this age group.

Children with autism often exhibit gastrointestinal issues, with recent research suggesting that gut health issues could be linked to changes in microbial communities, he said.

“Understanding these associations can help in developing early diagnostic tools and targeted therapies.”

“Specific microbial imbalances, known as dysbiosis, have been consistently observed in individuals with ASD. These imbalances can affect the production of metabolites that influence brain function and behavior, illustrating the critical role the gut-brain axis plays in ASD.”

The researchers were affiliated with Hong Kong-based institutions. Some of the authors declared competing interests.

One was a board member of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Medical Centre and a shareholder of GenieBiome Ltd. Another researcher served as an advisory board member for Pfizer and Janssen.

A few authors were named inventors of patent applications held by CUHK and Microbiota I-Center (MagIC) that were related to the diagnostic and therapeutic use of microbiomes.

Dealing With Microbiome Issues

Multiple other studies have found links between gut microbiome and autism among children. An April 2024 study following over 16,000 individuals from their birth to their 20s found that a disturbance in gut flora during early years could be linked to autism.

Certain gut bacteria like citrobacter were found to be more prevalent in children who were later diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders. Children likely to develop autism lacked abundant gut bacteria like Coprococcus and Akkermansia.

“Coprococcus and Akkermansia muciniphila have potential protective effects. These bacteria were correlated with important substances in the stool, such as vitamin B and precursors to neurotransmitters which play vital roles orchestrating signalling in the brain,” first author of the study Angelica Ahrens said in a statement.

“Overall, we saw deficits in these bacteria in children who later received a developmental neurological diagnosis,” she wrote.

A 2022 study by researchers from Arizona State University found that microbiota transfer therapy offered long-term improvement in gut health among children with autism. The therapy involves transferring healthy gut bacteria into children.

Khemlal Nirmalkar, lead author of the study, said their research highlighted improvements among autistic children following the therapy.

“Our long-term goal is to understand the functional role of the gut microbiome, fill the knowledge gap of the gut-brain axis in autism, and identify therapeutic targets to improve GI health and behavior in children with autism,” he said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly one in 36 children in the United States are identified as having autism. The condition is almost four times more common among boys than girls.

A March 2023 CDC report found that one in 36 children aged 8 years had autism, up from one in 44 in 2018. This is far worse than the one in 150 estimate from 2000.

Between 2009 and 2017, one in six children between the ages of 3 and 17 were diagnosed with a developmental disability, including autism, ADHD, and cerebral palsy.

Even though the exact reason for the skyrocketing autism rates is unknown, explanations range from genetics to environmental risk factors like higher age of parents.

Some studies showed that infant exposure to certain materials like aluminum can be a cause of the disorder. Aluminum is used widely in food containers and many health products from antacids to vaccines.

From The Epoch Times