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Probiotics for Autism

Autism & Digestive Health

People with autism often have more digestive health problems than average. 1 in 4 children with autism are thought to have at least one chronic gastrointestinal symptom[1] and numerous studies have signalled abnormal digestive health conditions in people with autism[2],[3]. Autistic children have also been found to have more Clostridia (pathogenic bacteria) in the gut than children without autism[4] and a very recently published study[5] found a little known bacterial genus called Sutterella present in microbiota in just over half the participants with autism, but none of those without autism.

Probiotic microorganisms support digestive health in adults and children. So can probiotics help with children or adults with autism?

Probiotics for Autism: Clinical Research

Probably the most well-known study into probiotics for autism was the unfinished trial run in 2006 by Professor Glenn Gibson at the University of Reading; referred to by some as the trial which was "so successful, that it failed". 40 autistic children all between 4 and 13 years old were randomly separated into a trial group, and a control group. The trial group were given a probiotic supplement with the species Lactobacillus plantarum whilst children in the other group were given placebos. The trial was supposed to continue this way for three weeks, before the groups would switch supplements and continue as such for a further three weeks. However researchers reported that the Lactobacillus probiotics had such a positive effect on the participants, that the 'blind' aspect of the trial fell through; parents of participants in the probiotic group could see a noticable effect, and said it was 'heartbreaking' to have to stop their child from taking the probiotics. Too many participants dropped out of the trial when they were supposed to switch over.Comments[6] from parents of participants in the probiotic group included not only reports on digestive health improvements, such as, 'better formed stools' but also potentially mental & behavioural improvements, such as, 'more calm, relaxed, not stressed' and 'improved ability to listen and concentrate'. However it is certainly worth mentioning that these comments are taken from a few parents, and also that interestingly, during the trial the parents' overview of the effects of the probiotics tended to be more positive than the view of teachers. The study saw a large drop out rate which meant it could not continue.

We have not been able to ascertain which strain of the L. plantarum species was used; reports of the trial state only that this strain was non-commercial. We want to underline that the beneficial effects of probiotics are strain-specific.

A great deal more clinical research is necessary before any firm conclusions can be made as to the effect of probiotics on autistic children and adults; preferably with large, randomised and double-blind clinical trials. Professor Gibson has expressed a desire to undertake a larger study in the future with fewer drop outs.

If you are going to try a probiotic to support digestive health, always make sure that the strains (and not just the species) in it are well-researched. See For daily wellbeing EXTRA Strength or For your child's health.

Autism & Diet

Some people believe that the symptoms of autism can be controlled in part by dietary changes, hence a fair amount of those on the autistic spectrum cut out certain foods which are thought to be difficult to digest. In particular many children and adults with autism take on a gluten & casein free diet (known by many as the GF/CF diet). There is not a huge amount of clinical research on the GF/CF diet, and drawbacks could potentially include decrease in certain useful white blood cells[7] as well as difficulty in reintroducing foods containing elements of gluten or casein.However, some anecdotal evidence suggests that the GF/CF diet could not only help improve digestive health, but also to improve attention & concentration, communication and language, and social integration, amongst other behavioural changes.Other foods which people cut out or reduce include MSG and aspartame flavour-enhancing ingredients, lutein, feingold and complex carbohydrates, starches and processed sugars.

Once again large and reliable clinical trials into the effects of diet on those on the autistic spectrum would be warmly welcomed and must be called for. It is always best to see a dietician or nutritionist before eliminating certain foods in one's diet. In the meantime anecdotal feedback that diet can alter the symptoms of autism provides further promise for the link between autism and gut health.

Probiotics for Autism: Anecdotal Evidence

Autism, by nature, affects different people in different ways. Of course, it is always best to speak to a nutritionist and often a case of trying certain approaches to diet or supplementation, and carefully monitoring one's results. Two mummy bloggers who have tried probiotics for their children with autism are Elle from TwinMums and Claire from Asperger's Info.

Please note that the views & comments expressed on the above blogs are not our own, nor are they endorsed by OptiBac Probiotics.

Have you any experience with probiotics & autism? Please share your thoughts with us via the comments box below.


1.Molloy CA. et al (2003). Prevalence of chronic gastrointestinal symptoms in children with autism and autistic spectrum disorders. Autism. 7:165-171.

2. Finegold. SM. et al (2002) Gastrointesintal microflora studies in late-onset autism. Clinical Infectious Diseases 35: S6-516.

3. Parracho H. et al (2005) Differences between the gut microflora of children with autistic spectrum disorders and that of healthy children. Journal of Medical Microbiology 54: 987 - 991.

4. Song, Yuli. et al (2004) Real-Time PCR Quantitation of Clostridia in Feces of Autistic Children. Appl Enciron Microbiol 70(11): 6459-6465.

5. Williams, BL, Hornig M, Parekh T, Lipkin WI. (2012) Application of novel PCR-based methods for detection, quantitation, and phylogenetic characterization of Sutterella species in intestinal biopsy samples from children with autism and gastrointestinal disturbances. mBio 3(1):e00261-11. doi:10.1128/mBio.00261-11


7. Ashwood P. et al (2003). Intestinal lymphoctye populations in children with regressive autism: evidence for extensive mucosal immunopathology. Journal of Clinical Immunology 23: 504-517.


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