A new study has found that using feces – or “poop,” could be effective in treating people who are on the autism spectrum!
To understand this seeming bizarre treatment, you must understand that there are millions of microbes living in our gut, collectively known as the gut microbiome. Imbalances or abnormalities in the gut microbiome are known to have an impact on virtually all organs, including the brain.
This brain-gut connection is of particular interest in this case, because many individuals suffering from neurological and developmental conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Autism Spectrum Disorders, also suffer from chronic gastrointestinal symptoms. The gut microbiome is also known to be different between neurological patients and the guts of healthy people.
Researchers from Arizona had the idea that if the gut and brain have such connection, why not try to treat the gut in order to help the brain? Could changing the makeup of a person’s gut microbiome influence disorders such as autism? One way that doctors have done so to treat other gut-related disorders is using something known as “fecal transfer.” In such a procedure, fecal matter, and therefore, a large number of gut microbes, are transferred from a healthy person’s stool to the other patient with the goal of establishing a healthier balance of “good” bacteria to “bad.”
In this study, microbial transfer therapy was administered to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders simultaneously suffering from chronic gastrointestinal problems. The 10 week treatment consisted of antibiotics and a bowel cleanse, followed by a high dose fecal microbiota transfer. After 8 weeks post treatment, 80% of individuals showed reduction in gastrointestinal symptoms and slow, but steady improvement in their autism-related condition.
After two years, all subjects of the study were evaluated again using a variety of gastrointestinal and behavioral tests. After measuring the patients’ gastrointestinal symptoms using Gastrointestinal Symptom Rating Scale, an average of 58% improvement was seen.
This result was striking, because all of the recipients reported never having normal gastrointestinal tract functioning since infancy. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation all showed improvement.
Families of the treated children have noticed slow but steady improvement in behavior since the treatment. The Childhood Autism Rating Scale is used by professionals to diagnose and evaluate the severity of autism. Two years after the study, the researchers questioned participants again and found that the severity had dropped by 47%. At the beginning of the therapy, 83% of children participating in the study were rated as severe, but after two years post-therapy only 17% fell into that category. Shockingly, 44% of the children had fallen below the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnostic cut-off. Additional follow-up tests further confirmed these results.
The interaction between our body and the gut microbiome is extremely complex and still not yet entirely, but studies such as this one show how it definitely has a role in health and disease.