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Autism’s Gut-Brain Connection & How to Tame it in Kids

By Carissa Andrews  •   March 28, 2017

Autism’s Gut-Brain Connection infographic

It’s believed nearly 70 million adults and children worldwide land somewhere on the Autistic Spectrum. This is a huge number and one where the trends keep rising. In recent years, an interesting trend has been uncovered.

Poor gut-brain health has been already linked to several neurological, and health-related issues from depression, to poor skin. We’re only beginning to uncover the true scope of how our internal health affects our total health. However, it appears one of the ways an unhealthy gut can impact children is in the for of Autistic symptoms. Right now, the scientific community is at a loss for which comes first: the unbalanced gastrointestinal tract, or Autism. Let’s take a closer look at why.

The gut-brain connection to Autism

Children with autism are 3.5 times more likely to suffer chronic diarrhea or constipation, than their peers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, it’s even been stated up to 90% of children on the Autistic Spectrum suffer from one form of gastrointestinal (GI) issue or another.

Some of the most common GI issues autistic children suffer with include:

1. Chronic Constipation

2. Chronic Diarrhea

3. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

4. Leaky Gut

One of the interesting things to come of this revelation is its possible treatments. When you treat the microbiome in a child’s gut, it has been found to alleviate many Autism symptoms. This has also been replicated in mice, who exhibit autism-like tendencies.

How to improve kid’s digestive biome

Kids can be particularly finicky eaters, but when you add ASD on top, the struggle can be upped tenfold. My eleven-year-old son’s best friend is on the autistic spectrum, and there are certain foods he simply won’t touch. No amount of reasoning, or disguising them will change the outcome. For him, the key is finding something he already likes and incorporating a probiotic (or at least healthier) substitute that he might accept. It’s all about trial and error.

Here are a few ways parents can begin to improve their child’s gut microbiome so it functions more optimally:

Go Gluten-free:

Found in breads, wheat byproducts, and many other sources, gluten is a protein that you should be considered eliminating from your child’s diet. There’s a reason this dietary trend has been gaining momentum for both those with autism and those without. In recent years, gluten has been linked to several health-related issues. For those with ASD, removing or reducing gluten from diet can heal leaky gut syndrome and increase a healthy gut biome.

Go Casein-free:

Another form of protein, known to cause trouble for kids with ASD. To go casein-free means removing all mammalian produced milk and milk products, such as cheese, yogurt, etc. Substitute instead, almond milk, or soy milk.


Dubbed the Autism Elimination Diet, this means going both Gluten-free and Casein-free at the same time. The best results seem to be found after a month or more of being on this strict elimination diet, with no cheat days.

Go with Probiotics:

It’s no secret, a key component to a healthy GI tract is consuming enough probiotics. Here are a few ways to incorporate them into your child’s diet:

• Fermented foods:

o Sauerkraut is a wonderful source of natural probiotics, but you need to be mindful of what kind. Raw, naturally fermented sauerkraut contains lactic acid and living probiotic microorganisms that are the agents of fermentation. For maximum benefit, learn how to make this amazing superfood at home. Kids love it when combined with roast beef (think Reuben’s) or paired with organic/natural sausages.

o Kombucha is another great source of probiotics, but must be used wisely with children. Not only can the taste be masked to their favorite juices, it does have some notable side effects to be cautions of. Homemade Mommy also provides some yummy recipes to try on your little ones.

• Yogurts: Yogurt can be a healthy way to get more probiotics, if eliminating casein isn’t on the agenda. For a wonderful list of criteria and advice on giving healthy yogurt to your kids, click here to read up on Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD’s website.

• Supplements: When all else fails, supplementing could be the way to go. Be sure to ask your dietician about which way is right for your child.

o These supplements can be in the form of probiotic drinks, pills, or even alkaline, greens formulas, such as Greens First for Kids.

It’s important to note that when you remove dietary sources in any diet, a substitution should be found to fill the gap. For instance, both casein and gluten are forms of dietary protein, and without a proper substitute it could developmentally delay children who do not get enough protein in their diets. If you’re concerned your child might not be getting enough protein, or other important dietary nutrients, it’s time to call in a nutritionist to monitor things. They can work with you to add in foods or supplements to address any gaps in nutrition.

Remember, a healthy gut microbiome is beneficial for not only children with autism, but all people in general. The myriad gut-brain link connections are only beginning to be uncovered, but it’s safe to say the healthier the gut, the healthier the brain and body. Maintaining a healthy inside at an early age will not only decrease unwanted issues and behaviors, but it delivers a springboard for a lifetime of health and wellbeing.


Carissa Andrews is a freelance writer, graphic designer, and author. You can learn more about her at her website.

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The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.