Diversity training

So you know how yesterday I was talking about gluten intolerance, intestinal environments, and autism? Well, look what we have here… some brand-new research, with results that couldn’t be timelier if I planned them.

I’m assuming Monday’s discussion is still fresh in your memory. (If not, you can read it again here.) So let’s just dive right in, shall we?

According to this latest study, lack of diversity among friendly microbes in the gut could be a contributing factor in the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

As I’ve reported a number of times in the past, research has already established that gut microflora plays a critical role in a long list of essential biological processes. Not just digestion, either–but weight maintenance, immune defense, mood regulation, heart health, and more.

This is the first comprehensive bacterial analysis of its kind, however, to take a closer look at the intestinal environments of autistic children. So I’d say it’s a pretty big deal.

Specifically, researchers discovered that children on the autism spectrum have significantly fewer types of bacteria populating their digestive tract. Stool samples revealed that this lower diversity was positively associated with the presence of ASD symptoms.

Maybe even more importantly, analysis showed that these children also have significantly lower amounts of three strains of bacteria in particular–namely, Prevotella, Coprococcus, and Veillonellaceae. (And in case you’re wondering, I’ve never heard of these strains either, so you’re not alone there.)

When you consider so many children on the autism spectrum have GI problems– including reports of feeling better on a gluten-free, casein-free diet–this is hardly surprising. Especially since a growing body of evidence suggests that when these problems are adequately addressed, autistic behaviors among these children improve dramatically.

So it only makes sense to take a closer look at what’s going on with these kids’ bacterial population. Because ultimately, gut diversity is a critical health factor for everyone.

I could write an entire book on this subject. (Oh, wait–I did.). But suffice it to say that I’m a firm believer in NOT bombarding your body with billions of colonies of one or even several strains of bugs.

It’s always best to give your body lower amounts of friendly flora… enough to allow your body’s bugs to regenerate and form their own bacteria.

Of course, every body’s individual needs will vary–and unique conditions raise unique considerations. This study’s results drive home that point.

The authors note the three bacterial groups they identified as lacking in ASD patients also play key roles in carbohydrate digestion. Their wider supportive role in the gut is still up for investigation. But in the meantime, these results might help to explain why specific carbohydrate and lower carbohydrate diets work so well in kids on the autism spectrum.

In short, this is really exciting stuff.

I must say, I truly am digging the results coming out of the Human Microbiome Project. I first wrote about this groundbreaking research a few years back in my book Boost Your Health with Bacteria. And the news only keeps getting better.

There are over 1 trillion organisms living in our body–we host more of them than we have cells. Obviously, there’s a very good reason for their presence. And the more we learn about it, the healthier we’ll be.

In the meantime, I can’t say it enough: Good bugs are our friends. Just repeat that mantra the next time you find yourself reaching for a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Kang DW, et al. “Reduced incidence of prevotella and other fermenters in intestinal microflora of autistic children.” PLoS One. 2013 Jul 3;8(7):e68322.