New research conducted at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, reports that children with autism and gastrointestinal disturbances have high levels of a bacterium called Sutterella in their intestines. This clearly shows a relationship between gut bacteria and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Finally there is more science to support what Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride has been saying for years — that an imbalance in the gut microflora causes disturbances in the brain, that result in autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorders, dyspraxia, and dyslexis to name a few.
Sutterella species may play a role in autism
Researchers found evidence of Sutterella species in ileal mucosal (intestine) biopsy specimens from patients diagnosed with ASD but not in control children with GI symptoms. It is unclear if this species of bacteria is a human pathogen, but it was present in very high levels in the ASD kids. This suggests that Sutterella species may play a part in ASD.
Dr. Brent Williams, the lead investigator said,
These findings shine a light on a bacterium about which we know very little, in a disorder for which we have few answers… There is much work to be done toward understanding the role Sutterella plays in autism, the microbiota, infections, and inflammation.
Infection, inflammation and gastrointestinal disorders
It has been observed by doctors treating autistic children, that many ASD kids have gastrointestinal disorders ranging from constipation, diarrhea, generalized inflammation, pain and more serious bowel conditions like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. Pain can explain some of the behaviors exhibited by ASD kids, especially those without the ability to speak.
This study was reported in the mBio journal and was unique, because it investigated bacteria that adhere the intestinal wall. Previous studies have collected bacteria through stool samples. Bacteria collected through stool samples may only be passing through the intestinal tract and are different than those that actually embed in the intestinal membrane. Furthermore, the researchers designed and applied novel Sutterella-specific molecular assays to enable detection and analysis.
Christine A. Biron, Professor of Medical Science at Brown University said,
The relationship between different microorganisms and the host and the outcomes for disease and development is an exciting issue… this paper is important because it starts to advance the question of how the resident microbes interact with a disorder that is poorly understood.
The Sutterella bacteria has been associated with gastrointestinal diseases below the diaphragm, and whether it’s a pathogen or not is still not clear. It is not a very well-known bacterium… Most work that has been done linking the gut microbiome with autism has been done with stool samples… but the microorganisms shed in stool don’t necessarily represent the microbes that line the intestinal wall… what may show up in a stool sample may be different from what is directly attached to the tissue.
Imbalance in the gut flora affects the brain
In her ground breaking book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride details how the imbalance in the gut microbiome results in toxins that affect the gastrointestinal tract as well as the brain. The compromised gut flora affects the immune system (80% of the immune system is in the gut) and can lead to a breakdown of the blood/brain barrier. Toxins may enter the brain and cause neurological (as in ASD) or psychological (as in bipolar, etc) symptoms.
Leaky Gut or Dysbiosis
The problems start with dysbiosis of the intestinal tract, or leaky gut, which allows undigested particles of food into the bloodstream. This triggers an immunological response to these foreign particles. In some people, if the food is gluten or casein, they can turn into gluteomorphines and caseomorphines respectively. These substances act as you would expect — as morphine like substances that will cause distorted communication within the brain.
Will one strain of a potential pathogen be the answer?
These scientists have identified one strain that is a potential contributor to the gut dysbiosis of autistic children. However, there are 400 – 500 strains of bacteria, yeasts, viruses and worms (yes, there are worms as well) that live in our intestinal tract. In a healthy gut, all the strains keep each others populations in check.
It will be interesting to see where this research goes. Will they try to create an antibiotic for Sutterella if it turns out to be a pathogen that affects the brain and causes autistic behavior?
Healing the gut is the correct approach
It is my opinion that healing the gut of the imbalanced flora would be the most lasting and the best approach. The GAPS diet covers all the bases when it comes to providing a systemic way to heal the gut and provide nutrients to children whose brains are literally starving.
The relationship between the gut and the brain has been definitively established through the clinical practice of Dr. Campbell-McBride and other doctors who treat autistic children and use diet as the basis of their therapies. In treating autism, other supportive therapies are also called for and should be utilized. They will work better when the appropriate diet is in place.