Lack of the gut bacterium, Lactobacillus reuteri, in infants, leads to lowered levels of oxytocin production which is crucial to social interaction and bonding.
While people speculate that autism might be due to too many vaccines given to children, or MMR, or antibiotics, or stressed mothers, or mothers on drugs or obese mothers, underlying all those potential causes could be a single factor. Damage to the gut microbiome.
For example, in studies on mice with autistic defects, the addition of just one bacterium strain in which they were deficient corrected particular behavioural defects. The research was conducted by scientists at Baylor College in Houstion and appears in the June 2016 edition of Cell.
Previous studies have linked autism to vaccines, mercury, maternal stress and maternal diet deficiencies prior to birth and more. The underlying issue in all of these is the fundamental damage to the child’s microbiome. It maybe that there are multiple ‘causes’ but only one real driver of autism – a disrupted microbiome. It is common in cases of autism for the patient to have gut problems, as we have reported before.
The mice were given behavioural deficiencies reminiscent of autism spectrum deficiencies (ASDs) in humans.
“Other research groups are trying to use drugs or electrical brain stimulation as a way to reverse some of the behavioraul symptoms associated with neurodevelopmental disorders; but here we have, perhaps, a new approach,” said senior author Dr. Mauro Costa-Mattioli, associate professor of neuroscience at Baylor. “Whether it would be effective in humans, we don’t know yet, but it is an extremely exciting way of affecting the brain from the gut.”
Prior observations had shown an increased risk of autism in children born to obese mothers, so the researchers fed one group of mice a high fat diet and another group of mice a lean diet. Sure enough, the fat mice produced offspring with symptoms of autism.
Chris Woollams, former Oxford Biochemist said, “We know that the gut bacteria in the microbiome of obese people can be significantly different to that of healthy people. This may be linked to Autism, but may well be just one of many reasons. People need to be cautious of concluding obesity in the mother is the only reason behind autism”.
The Baylor researchers then allowed the obese offspring to eat the droppings of the healthy mice, and the symptoms improved. The researchers then went on to identify one strain of bacteria responsible for the improvement – Lactobacillus reuteri.
“We cultured a strain of L. reuteri originally isolated from human breast milk and introduced it into the water of the (behaviourally-deficient) offspring. We found that treatment with this single bacterial strain was able to rescue their social behaviour”.
Importantly, L. reuteri is normally present in the breast milk of healthy mothers. Researchers have previously found that L. reuteri promotes the production of the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, known to play a role in social behaviour.
Oxytocin was discovered in 1906 and is known to play a role in child birth, development and in social bonding – there is an oxytocin receptor in the brain.