According to a study, there is a connection between certain bacteria in the gut and autism. So, there is a possibility of using probiotics to treat autism.
Professor Glenn Gibson of the University of Reading conducted this study. Though the results are very preliminary, he is "cautiously optimistic" about them. The study did not propose any link between autism and childhood vaccinations.
According to Gibson, bowel problems like diarrhoea and constipation are common in autistic children. So, the normal collection of microbes may not be present in their guts.
Comparison of bacteria in faecal samples taken from 50 autistic children with those from non-autistic ones was done by Gibson's team. They found high levels of the bacterium clostridium in the samples from autistic children.
"Whatever is going on there, [it] is not doing these children any good, and I think almost certainly explains their gastro problems. More speculatively, some species of clostridium could produce toxins that affected the brain, possibly causing autistic symptoms," said Prof Gibson.
But he warned: "The problem with these kinds of studies is, you never know whether it is cause or effect."
To find out, a trail of a probiotic treatment to decrease the clostridium level was carried out by his team. 40 autistic children in the age group 4 - 8 years were included in the trial. 20 of them were given Lactobacillus lantarum, a harmless bacterium naturally present in the gut and the other half were given a placebo.
Probiotic was administered every day as 1 gm of powder containing 1 bn bacteria. Parents were asked to record their kid's symptoms, without being told about the group to which their kids belonged.
As nearly50% of the kids dropped out the results are inconclusive. Some parents did not want their children to be changed to the placebo, so they withdrew their kids.
"Some of the parents worked out that their child was on the [probiotic] and didn't want to move on to the placebo because they were seeing some positive results," said Prof Gibson.
Improvement in child's concentration and behaviour was reported by some parents. According to a mother, it was "heartbreaking" to be told to move on to the placebo.
Around 5,35,000 people in UK suffer from some form of autism, including a milder form called Asperger's Syndrome.
Boys are 4 times more prone to this condition than girls. The reason is not obvious.