A Gut Feeling: New Factor for the Cause of Autism Discussed

In the past month, Dr. Derrick MacFabe of London, Ontario presented groundbreaking evidence into a possible cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder to the Nobel Forum Conference.

MacFabe, the Director of the Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group at Western University in London, Ontario, presented the findings of his team to the conference which focuses on the impact of nutrition on ASD; specifically, how microbes can be a contributing factor in the development of autism.

With such a small number of top scientists and pioneers in the area, the symposium was able to hone in on human and animal tested research which focused on the ways certain medications disrupt the digestive cycle. These disturbances of natural microbes (or the ‘microbiome’ as it has been termed) seem to be caused by the overuse of ‘antibiotics, disinfectants, C-section deliveries, and even diet’. Along with autism and other forms of ASD, the conference looked at how these biomes could be a factor in the increased prevalence of obesity, various cancers, and  immunological disorders and neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism.

This new finding pushes the envelope for the nature versus nurture debate on what causes autism. The new available information significantly points in the direction of specific bacteria in our intestines contribute to brain function and behaviour. It appears that said bacteria could act as a switch of sorts in various neurodevelopments. MacFabe and his colleagues examined these bacterium and came to the conclusion that an overuse of antibiotics or disinfectants and a poor diet could severely alter the microbiome, turning the switch and altering the brain’s development.

While this new theory is incredibly progressive, it supports the idea that it is not solely nature or nurture that creates a person, but rather a mixture of the two. If something as simple as the overuse of antibiotics or aggressive disinfecting could have such a large impact on a child’s development, perhaps some changes to drug administration could be considered in the future after more studies have been conducted and this theory gains a better foundation. Until then, the search to determine the cause of autism continues as more treatment programs become available to those of all ages and levels of functioning.

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University

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