A new study shows that fecal transplants performed on autistic children can improve their behavior and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Researchers concluded that the children saw an improvement of 80 percent of their gut health and a 24 percent improvement when it comes to their behavior. The improvements appeared to be long-lasting, as they remained quantifiable months after the treatment had ended.

Boy, parents, autism
“About 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. Image credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children with autism are known to have an increased risk of suffering from gastrointestinal problems. Also, past studies suggest that the composition of the gut microbiome has an important association with the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. If this association proves to be true, then the manipulation of the gut microbiome could be used as a therapeutic approach to improve autism symptoms.

Is the cure for autism hidden in our gut?

Evidence shows that trillions of microbes living in our intestines can influence the body’s metabolic and immune mechanisms, while also having an effect on gene expression and brain development. The latter two factors appear to be altered in people diagnosed with autism.

To perform a fecal transplant, the patient has to take antibiotics for several weeks to completely clear their existing gut microbiome. After that, doctors take a healthy donor’s feces, have them screened for potentially harmful bacteria, and finally, they are introduced into another person’s digestive tract.

Researchers from the University of Ohio analyzed 18 children diagnosed with autism and gastrointestinal disorders aged from 7 to 16, while several healthy children were portrayed as a mean of comparison. After undergoing the fecal transplant, parents reported a reduction in gastrointestinal problems for the eight weeks after the treatment had ended. They also noted an improvement in the behavior of their children.

How the kids got better

The reports were documented through standardized questionnaires with measures of irritability, social skills, communication prowess, hyperactivity, and other types of behavior native to autistic children. Participants were subjected to evaluation with their respective physicians, who also reported a lasting improvement in their behavior, this taking place after the fecal transplant treatment had ended and a second time after eight weeks.

The health specialists rated the behavior of the children using the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, which summarized to an improvement of 24 percent on the second round of tests.

Girl with autism
The research team warns families not to be rash and force their children to have fecal transplants to try and treat their autism symptoms, especially if the procedure is not performed under medical supervision. Image credit: http://autism.lovetoknow.com/.

Researchers advise that the results should not be taken as the definitive cure for autism, seeing that a placebo effect could be responsible for the results. One of the limitations was the small number of participants, which is why the team, based at the University of Ohio is seeking funding to perform a much larger trial.

In the study, it is stated that doctors are sure that the procedure works, although they do not know how or why. They are interested in determining exactly what types of bacteria can cause a difference, opening the possibility of isolating them and manufacturing a pharmacological treatment for autism.

Source: University of Ohio