I could go into the obvious issues facing North Americans with regards to nutrition; a profoundly high incidence of chronic diseases brought on in large part from a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle but I want to deviate ever so slightly. Instead, I thought it would be interesting to explore a disorder that has grown by 600% in North America over the past 20 years. Autism, once thought to be a neurological disorder, is back at the forefront of research in because of the unveiling of more concrete evidence relating to a connection with the gut microflora. For those of you interested, there is a great episode of David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things (full episode is available here) which explores this groundbreaking and very encouraging theory in detail.
According to The Nature of Things, “autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the world” but as it stands now, there is no clear or widely accepted understanding of the cause. What was different about the story told on The Nature of Things is that higher than average rates of autism have been detected in new immigrants to various western countries which points to the possible connection of environmental factors.
Children are especially sensitive to environmental factors such as diet, the use of antibiotics, vaccines, stress, pollutants, and so on. Doctors noticed that kids with autism seem to have more problems with digestion and commonly experience IBS and constipation causing Researchers to examine the stool of 50 kids with autism and 50 kids without autism. The findings revealed that the levels of a gut based bacteria, clostridium, were higher in those with autism.
This increased level of clostridium is hypothesized to be from repeated uses of antibiotics, especially with young children. Antibiotics disturb the natural gut flora and raise the level of clostridum. Many women who have taken prolonged courses of antibiotics may have experienced a similar dysbiosis resulting in yeast infections. Like Canadida (excess yeast) which causes allergies and a host of other problems, clostridium is said to result in toxic by-products which are neurologically disruptive in some children since their immune system is not fully developed and more vulnerable. The gut is often desecribed as our second brain, and in looking at this connection it’s not hard to see why.
Of course, antibiotics are a valuable medicinal tool and can be lifesaving, but one has to wonder if they are overused especially in our North American culture of simply reaching for a pill each time we’re sick. The Harvard Health Publications noted that doctors may over prescribe antibiotics, especially with children because they want to air on the side of caution but also because they face such time pressure that a decision must quickly be made and it’s not always feasible to take more time to investigate the concrete cause of an illness. It’s also been reported that patients demand antibiotics from their doctors because they believe it is the only solution.
Interestingly, The Centre For Disease Control invested $400,000 for a broadcast campaign warning of the issues surrounding inappropriate use of antibiotics. The CDC’s website offers a plethora information on antibiotics and offers tips on symptom aliviation when drugs simply don’t do the trick.On a positive note, the research being conducted in the area of the gut-toxic by-products-autism front is highly encouraging because it offers parents and guardians a tangible, realistic, and immediate treatment option for children with this disorder. While it’s not a cure, symptoms can significantly improve with dietary modifications, specifically with the elimination of dairy, wheat, and gluten and the introduction of high amounts of probiotics. This combination is a common protocol for the reestablishment of a balanced gut microflora. Several studies have reported significant improvements in mood and behaviour.
Stay tunned for The Health Junction’s next post – a stop in Europe.
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