Originally published May 23 2015
Antibiotics improve autistic child's symptoms, validating the autism-gut microbe connection
by David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) An international investigation into the connection between autism and abnormal gut microbes was initially spurred by medical capitalist John Rodakis when he noticed that his autistic son's symptoms improved while he was on antibiotics for an unrelated strep throat infection, according to an article published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease's recent special issue on autism and the microbiome.
Roughly 100 trillion microorganisms live in the human gut, playing a critical role in regulating everything from digestion to immune function and even mood. Now, evidence continues to mount that there might be some connection between an abnormal composition of these microorganisms (collectively known as microbiota, or the microbiome) and autism.
Scientists start listening to parentsIn his article, Rodakis wrote that, when he noticed the striking improvement in his son's autism, he began taking comprehensive notes on his son's symptoms. He actually developed customized software which allowed him to track 20 separate autism parameters using quantitative measurements while he made qualitative notes (Rodakis also has a background in molecular biology, as well as a Harvard MBA). Rodakis notes that, at the same time, his son's therapists, who did not know about the antibiotics, independently commented that his son had improved.
After this experience, Rodakis conducted a literature review in search of research on a connection between autism and antibiotics but found only a single article. That article told of a 1999 study at Chicago Rush Children's hospital and also reported improvement in autistic children on antibiotics. Rodakis then discovered similar and widespread experiences among other autistic parents.
"I was determined to understand what was happening in the hope of helping both my son and millions of other children with autism," he wrote.
Rodakis discovered that the 1999 study had been inspired by a then-fringe hypothesis that the microbiome might play a role in autism, but even as of a few years ago little research had attempted to test the hypothesis. So Rodakis approached leading autism researcher Richard Frye, who heads the Autism Research Program at Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute.
"Careful parental observations can be crucial," Dr. Frye said. "In science we take these observations, put them through the scientific method, and see what we find. This is what can lead to ground breaking scientific discoveries and breakthroughs in the field."
The collaboration they founded eventually attracted researchers from around the world and recently culminated in the First International Symposium on the Microbiome in Health and Disease with a Special Focus on Autism, held in June 2013. The special issue of Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease contains contributions from presenters at that conference, as well as other scientists.
From the margin to the centerThe connection between autism and the microbiome is no longer fringe, or speculative. Numerous studies have now confirmed that autistic children have a different composition of microbiota than non-autistic children. But the field is still under-funded, Rodakis notes.
"At the time of his diagnosis, we had been led to believe that our son's autism was a hard-wired neurological condition from which he would not emerge," he wrote, "but during the fall and winter of 2012 and subsequent periods since then we have seen our son with the veil of autism partially lifted.
"I love him unconditionally regardless of his autism or how he is doing on any given day, but because I have seen what is possible, I will endeavor to promote research that benefits all children with autism and to remove all impediments from him becoming the fullest embodiment of who he can be and until it is definitively proven otherwise, I will strive to foster research consistent with the evidence of the microbiome's involvement in autism."
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