The connection between gut bacteria and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is becoming better established.
The latest link is courtesy of John Rodakis, a medical venture capitalist who published a report today on how his son’s autism symptoms improved dramatically while the child was taking an antibiotic. The boy was put on the prescription antibiotic amoxicillin to treat strep throat.
The child was able to make eye contact, his speech development improved, and he had drive and energy his parents had never seen before.
The report by Rodakis reviews recent research on the link between gut bacteria and ASD. It was published in Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease.
Rodakis doesn’t say antibiotics should be used to treat autism, but he believes gut bacteria play a role in the disorder.
“I’m not advocating the use of antibiotics as a long-term treatment for autism, but I would like to see serious medical research into why some children seem to improve when taking antibiotics,” Rodakis told Healthline.
Rodakis said giving autistic children antibiotics is not the answer, and doing so could have negative effects. “We want to be careful that we don’t create a mad rush for parents to go and put their ASD kids on antibiotics,” he said. “It's my hope that by studying these antibiotic-responding children, we can learn more about the core biology of autism.”
A Man on a Mission
Rodakis dove into the research after his son’s temporary improvement. He found a 1999 study from Chicago Rush Children's hospital citing a similar phenomenon.
A recent study from Arizona State University released this past summer found that children with autism had less diversity in the types of bacteria found in their guts than children developing normally. In other words, their microbiome was not as diverse.
The microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that naturally live on and in the human body. Research has revealed that these microbes are mostly beneficial, delivering nutrients from the food we eat, helping our immune system develop, and regulating metabolism.
The gut contains the largest store of helpful bacteria in the body. When a person takes an antibiotic, the drug kills not only the harmful bacteria it was prescribed to treat, but also other gut bacteria as collateral damage. Some researchers speculate that changing the balance of microbes in the gut can impact conditions ranging from obesity and food allergies to type 1 diabetes and autism.
Rodakis said he was determined to understand just how the antibiotic had helped his son in order to help other children with ASD.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Rodakis spoke to doctors and scientists about the possible link between gut health and ASD.
He then contacted Dr. Richard Frye, who leads the Autism Research Program at Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute. They connected with other researchers in hopes of starting a trial to study the phenomenon. They also wanted to hold a conference.
The 1st International Symposium on the Microbiome in Health and Disease with a Special Focus on Autism was held in June. The event was co-sponsored by Rodakis' new nonprofit organization, N of One: Autism Research Foundation.
The link between the microbiome and ASD should be further researched, Rodakis wrote.
“Many in the research community are now beginning to view autism as something more akin to a metabolic syndrome, one that the microbiome may play a role in,” he said.
What can parents do?
Rodakis urges them to observe and keep notes on their children — especially if they are taking antibiotics and show improved function.