Autism Awareness: How to Nourish Your Baby’s Brain
Are you ahead of your time? A trailblazer? On the cutting edge?
If you managed your child’s signs of autism with diet, you are.
Research now validates what you already know: That autism has something to do with a leaky gut. And that probiotics may help.
But it’s not just autism. A whole suite of disorders related to mood and development are linked to your baby’s gut.
It’s like this: Your baby’s gut contains a multitude of microbes. This ecosystem supports overall wellness. Shifts or differences in your baby’s inner ecosystem can lead to permeability—or leakiness.
A leaky gut allows things to escape into the bloodstream. These include:
- Metabolites—or small molecules that microbes use and make.
- Cytokines—messages that pass along through the immune system.
And wouldn’t ya know it, specific metabolites and cytokines have been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders, like autism.1
The first one thousand days of your baby’s life are the most important for brain development and lifetime health. Feed your baby a few drops of cultured vegetable juice from the time they start solids to nourish the gut.
Your Baby’s Gut Is Connected to Your Baby’s Brain
Elaine Hsiao, a professor at Caltech, published a paper in 2013.2 Using mice, Professor Hsiao and her colleagues showed that gut microbes are linked to autism. And that signs of autism are reduced with a specific probiotic, Bacteroides fragilis.
Her research hinges on a leaky gut. Leaky enough that it allows large amounts of the metabolite 4EPS (4-ethylphenyl sulfate) to reach the brain.
According to Hsiao, 4EPS is chemically similar to another metabolite that runs high in those with autism. Once a leaky gut is sealed with the help of probiotics—signs of autism go away, and 4EPS levels drop.
As Professor Hsiao points out, certain subsets of children with autism have obvious gastrointestinal troubles that are linked to leaky gut—like constipation or diarrhea. But the documented range of those with both autism and gut troubles is broad. Like, 9 to 91 percent.3
Still, according to an expert panel of scientists and clinicians, the association between the gut and autism is there. And it’s strong.4
The Right Mix of Microbes Supports Brain Development
Your baby’s nervous system, immune system, and inner ecosystem all work together. They communicate across the microbiota–gut–brain axis, which is the line of communication that runs between these systems.
In animal studies, researchers have found that changes in the gut ecosystem impact behavior, including anxiety and depression.5 For example, specific probiotics decrease anxiety and depression.6,7 Whereas, infection and inflammation in the gut lead to signs of anxiety.8,9
And germ-free mice (those that haven’t been exposed to microbes) show autism-like behavior.10 Researchers found that exposing germ-free mice to microbes during weaning reversed some signs of autism, making them more social and reducing repetitive behavior.
Autism Awareness Starts Here: Make the Most Out of Those First One Thousand Days
The prenatal and postnatal period (pregnancy and up to two years old) is a critical window of time when the gut, the immune system, and the brain are developing.11 These first one thousand days lay the foundation for a lifetime of health.
In order to nourish your baby’s brain and behavior—go to the gut. Your baby’s brain development relies on those very first communities of gut bacteria.
Ideally, you’re able to begin nourishing your baby’s brain before pregnancy when you can restore your own inner ecosystem by getting rid of dysbiosis—or imbalance. This means controlling infection with antibiotic herbs (instead of antibiotic drugs) and repopulating the gut with healthy microbes.
Because your baby inherits your inner ecosystem.
During the first one thousand days of your baby’s life, pay attention to your own gut health. And, if possible:
- Choose vaginal delivery
- Avoid antibiotics
- Manage prenatal stress with yoga and mindfulness techniques
Once your baby begins to eat solids, incorporate fermented foods and include fiber-rich prebiotic foods that feed healthy gut bacteria. For your weaning baby, this could look like a little juice from a batch of cultured veggies and a spoonful of steamed yams.
About Megan Garcia:
Simple. Safe. And effective. This is my mantra. And it matters most when working with babies. I believe that baby wellness begins before conception and is guided by more than diet. And being excessively geeky, I talk about baby wellness on Instagram, Twitter, and my own website (which is FULL of free loot).
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Research has associated autism with leaky gut, providing hope that probiotics can offer relief. Now it makes sense why many children with autism have severe gastrointestinal issues linked to leaky gut, like constipation and diarrhea.
It is possible to manage signs of autism and support brain development at an early age. The first one thousand days of your baby’s life are the most important for total nourishment, from pregnancy up to two years old. This is the time when the gut, the immune system, and the brain develop to ensure a lifetime of robust health.
Once your baby is ready for solids, it’s time to cultivate their inner ecology. Feed your baby probiotics like juice from a batch of cultured veggies, along with fiber-rich prebiotics like steamed yams, to support healthy gut bacteria growth.
- Reddy, B. L., & Saier, M. H. (2015). Autism and Our Intestinal Microbiota. Journal of molecular microbiology and biotechnology, 25(1), 51-55.
- Hsiao, E. Y., McBride, S. W., Hsien, S., Sharon, G., Hyde, E. R., McCue, T., … & Mazmanian, S. K. (2013). Microbiota modulate behavioral and physiological abnormalities associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. Cell, 155(7), 1451-1463.
- Hsiao, E. Y. (2014). Gastrointestinal issues in autism spectrum disorder. Harvard review of psychiatry, 22(2), 104-111.
- Buie, T., Campbell, D. B., Fuchs, G. J., Furuta, G. T., Levy, J., VandeWater, J., … & Winter, H. (2010). Evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of gastrointestinal disorders in individuals with ASDs: a consensus report. Pediatrics, 125(Supplement 1), S1-S18.
- Foster, J. A., & Neufeld, K. A. M. (2013). Gut–brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression. Trends in neurosciences, 36(5), 305-312.
- Bravo, J. A., Forsythe, P., Chew, M. V., Escaravage, E., Savignac, H. M., Dinan, T. G., … & Cryan, J. F. (2011). Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(38), 16050-16055.
- Desbonnet, L., Garrett, L., Clarke, G., Kiely, B., Cryan, J. F., & Dinan, T. G. (2010). Effects of the probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis in the maternal separation model of depression. Neuroscience, 170(4), 1179-1188.
- Lyte, M., Varcoe, J. J., & Bailey, M. T. (1998). Anxiogenic effect of subclinical bacterial infection in mice in the absence of overt immune activation. Physiology & behavior, 65(1), 63-68.
- Bercik, P., Park, A. J., Sinclair, D., Khoshdel, A., Lu, J., Huang, X., … & Verdu, E. F. (2011). The anxiolytic effect of Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 involves vagal pathways for gut–brain communication. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 23(12), 1132-1139.
- Desbonnet, L., Clarke, G., Shanahan, F., Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2014). Microbiota is essential for social development in the mouse. Molecular psychiatry, 19(2), 146-148.
- Borre, Y. E., O’Keeffe, G. W., Clarke, G., Stanton, C., Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2014). Microbiota and neurodevelopmental windows: implications for brain disorders. Trends in molecular medicine, 20(9), 509-518.