There May Be a Connection Between Autism and Intestinal Flora

     There may be a connection between autism and intestinal flora in a child’s digestive tract.  A study which analyzed fecal samples in 20 autistic children and 20 children without autism showed that the autistic children had not only significantly less microbial diversity but lower amounts of three types of intestinal flora.  A decreased microbial diversity may potentially leave a person more vulnerable to harmful bacteria. (1)

     This study was conducted because autistic children experience a lot of gastrointestinal issues that may persist into adulthood (1).  It has been suspected that imbalances in intestinal flora are the cause, while other studies have suggested it triggers inflammation that spreads to the brain contributing to autism symptoms (2).  It has been shown that the behavior of autistic children dramatically improves when these gastrointestinal issues are managed.  Studies such as this may lead to new methods to treat autism-associated gastrointestinal issues, and improve diagnosis, prevention and treatment of autism (1). 

     This study showed a connection between autism and intestinal flora but did not prove that changes in intestinal flora are the cause of autism (1).  However, this study brings us closer to understanding the relationship as well as the need to approach the treatment of autism with a whole body view (2).






Probiotics, Prebiotics May Benefit Children

Healthy children may benefit from the addition of probiotics or prebiotics to their diet.  These supplements may potentially treat viral diarrhea and prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea, however, they should not be given to children who are chronically or seriously ill or who have compromised immune systems. 

Probiotics boost the friendly bacteria in the body that can destroy harmful bacteria and reduce infection.  Studies have suggested potentially treating some children’s conditions with probiotics or prebiotics.  It has been shown that children with diarrhea from acute viral gastroenteritis who ate probiotic foods early on experienced a shorter duration of diarrhea by about one day.  Other studies showed that probiotics were modestly effective in preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea in healthy children when compared with a placebo. However, there is no evidence that probiotics treat antibiotic-associated diarrhea.  Some preliminary findings also suggest probiotics may potentially prevent necrotizing enterocolitis or death of intestinal tissue in newborn infants weighing more than 1,000 grams.  Infant formulas enhanced with probiotics or prebiotics do not appear to cause harm in healthy infants, but there’s insufficient evidence that they offer any clinical benefits.  Prebiotics may help reduce atopic eczema in healthy children, although more research is needed before prebiotics in infant formula would be recommended to help reduce infections. 

Although some studies show promising potential to treat health issues in children such as viral diarrhea and antibiotic-associated diarrhea with probiotics or prebiotics, more research is needed to determine how effective these supplements may be.




Probiotics May Lower Cholesterol

    Probiotics are live microorganisms that support health benefits upon consumption, while prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that fuel the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics and/or prebiotics could be used for health benefits such as cholesterol-lowering effects on humans. In vivo studies have shown that the administration of probiotics and/or prebiotics are effective in improving lipid profiles, including the reduction of serum/plasma total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides or increment of HDL-cholesterol.

     In a study administering L. plantarum (isolated from infant feces) to twelve male hypercholesterolimic mice for 14 days, total serum cholesterol was reduced 7% and triglycerides were reduced 10% compared to the control.  In another study, forty-eight male rats were fed buffalo milk yogurts fortified with Bifidobacterium longum for 35 days and found the concentration of total cholesterol was reduced by 50.3%, LDL-cholesterol by 56.3% and triglycerides by 51.2% compared to the control.  In a human study, the daily consumption of 200 grams of yogurt containing L. acidophilus after each dinner contributed to a 2.4% reduction in serum cholesterol concentration compared to a placebo group.  Another human study fed thirty-two subjects a low-fat yogurt containing B. longum resulting in a significant decline in serum total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides after 4-weeks.  A 14.5% increase in HDL-cholesterol was also shown compared to the control.

     A number of mechanisms have been proposed for the cholesterol-lowering effects of probiotics and prebiotics.  One proposed mechanism is the enzymatic deconjugation of bile acids by probiotics, making the bile acids less soluble and absorbed by the intestines, leading to their elimination in the feces.  Another mechanism is probiotics ability to bind cholesterol in the small intestines.  A third proposed mechanism for probiotics cholesterol-lowering effect is that cholesterol can be converted in the intestines to coprostanol, which is excreted in feces, decreasing the amount of cholesterol being absorbed.

     Probiotic and/or prebiotics have been extensively evaluated for their effects on lipid profiles. However, not all studies have supported their effectiveness at lowering cholesterol. Researchers have attempted to propose mechanisms of probiotics and/or prebiotics hypocholesterolemic effect through in vitro and in vivo studies but more studies are needed to better understand these mechanisms.    



Gut Bacteria May Help Fight Obesity

     The type and amount of bacteria in your gut may determine if you become overweight or even obese.  A strong correlation exists between bacteria’s ability to metabolize food and a person’s overall metabolism, suggesting that a person’s obesity may be an indication of poor gut health (1).  Obesity has been associated with structural alterations in intestinal bacteria, suggesting a potential link between specific microbial species and this disorder. Studies in animal models have shown evidence for likely intestinal bacteria mechanisms influencing body weight regulation.  Diet is involved in regulating the intestinal bacteria related to obesity; therefore, the role of microbes in energy balance is under the influence of diet (2).

     Researchers have found that the less intestinal bacteria a person has, the more likely they are to gain weight, become obese and develop risk factors for serious health problems.  The researchers conducted a study which showed lean people had more intestinal bacteria as well as many more species of bacteria than obese people.  This study suggested that people with the least intestinal bacterial diversity were likelier than those with a greater variety of microbes to keep gaining weight.  Those with less microbial diversity, regardless of weight, were more likely to have a variety of risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  The researchers said “All this supports the idea that eating a poor diet or taking lots of antibiotics may be factors in the obesity epidemic and associated health problems, in part, because of the way they affect our gut microbes.”  (3)

     These findings raise the possibility that gut bacteria may be an effective weigh loss therapy, and may give an explanation why some have a harder time losing weight than others.






Probiotic Effects Beyond the Gut

     A new study shows that a commercial probiotic called Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 effects are beyond the gastrointestinal tract and may influence inflammation from conditions such as psoriasis and chronic fatigue syndrome.  The significance of this study is that it shows a “single” probiotic influences not only the mucosal immune system but also the systemic immune system.

     Evidence suggests that probiotics influence the development and maintenance not only of microbial balance inside the gut and the mucosal immune system but also the systemic immune response.  The mucosal immune system is that portion of the immune system which provides protection to our various internal mucous membranes from potential pathogenic microbes from the outside environment, which then are further protected by the systemic immune system.  The systemic immune system is not confined to the site of infection and responds to inflammation, trauma, and infection throughout the whole body.

      This study consisted of patients with the gastrointestinal disorder ulcerative colitis, the inflammatory skin condition psoriasis, the inflammatory disease chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as controls for baseline levels of inflammation markers.  The three markers were C-reactive protein and the pro-inflammatory cytokines, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and interleukin-6.  All patients with ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and chronic fatigue syndrome had significantly higher levels of these inflammation markers prior to the study than the controls.

     All three groups with an inflammatory condition who received the probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 had significantly reduced levels of C-reactive protein compared with the controls.  However, only chronic fatigue syndrome and psoriasis patients showed reductions in tumor necrosis factor alpha, and only ulcerative colitis and chronic fatigue syndrome patients showed reductions in interleukin-6. This study is the first to show a probiotic resulting in consistent reductions in a number of inflammation markers across a range of gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal conditions. The findings also show the extent to which a single probiotic, Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 in particular, can affect the human immune system.



Probiotics: A Natural Treatment for Yeast Infections

     The three main causes of vaginal infections consist either of a fungal (yeast), parasitic, or bacterial component (1).  In regards to the yeast component, candida albicans is a common fungus found in the vagina, mouth, digestive tract, and on the skin.  Taking antibiotics decreases the number of good bacteria in the vagina, thus creating an imbalance with candida and allowing the number of Candida albicans to grow, resulting in a yeast infection (2).  Other causes of vaginal infections include corticosteroids and HIV, oral contraceptives and pregnancy, and diabetes (1). 

     Vaginal suppositories containing antifungal medications or oral antifungal medications are the conventional medical treatments for vaginal yeast infections.  However, probiotics may provide a natural treatment for vaginal yeast infections caused by candida and other organisms.  Probiotics are normally found in the vagina and they prevent unfriendly organisms, such as candida, from becoming over-established.  Women who frequently develop yeast infections, or who are taking antibiotics, are often advised to consume probiotics.  Probiotic supplements help restore a normal balance of vaginal organisms which could reduce the chance of developing a vaginal yeast infection.  Evidence still remains incomplete and inconsistent as to whether probiotics help prevent vaginal yeast infections.  (1)





Can Probiotics be a Substitute for Anxiety and Depression Medications?

     Recent research concluded that administering probiotics increased the “good” bacteria in the gut of chronic fatigue syndrome patients and significantly decreased their depression and anxiety symptoms.

     Supplementing “good bacteria” helps maintain healthy gut flora that is beneficial to digestion, regularity, and the immune system.  New research shows a correlation with the feel good neurotransmitter L-tryptophan.  Therefore, the conductors of this research claim probiotics have a role in the management of neurophysiological disorders such as anxiety and depression and may result in fewer side effects than medicine.

     The study reported 73 percent of subjects taking the probiotic experienced an increase in Lactobacillus and Bifidoacteria in the intestines correlating with a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms. Only 37.5 percent in the placebo showed an increase in Bifidobacteria and 43.8 percent showed an increase in Lactobacillus bacteria with no significant change in anxiety symptoms.  The co-author of the study stated Bifidobacteria appears to increase levels of tryptophan in the brain, a chemical that helps people feel better.

     Probiotics are thought to “crowd out” the more toxic stomach bacteria linked to depression and other mood disorders.  Also the good bacteria produce compounds that travel to the brain and help manage behavioral and mood problems, such as anxiety and depression.