The Microbiome’s Connection to Autism-Risk
Despite extensive research, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding autism. As the causes and symptoms are explored on a more granular level, some research has uncovered a possible link to autism in developing mothers.
Expectant mothers have a lot of responsibility when it comes for nurturing their unborn baby. Diet, exercise, and proper health initiatives are essential in supporting the growing fetus. Researchers have begun looking at this stage of the child’s development for some clues to where autism may begin.
What they discovered is a link to the mother’s microbiome, which is, essentially, the gut. The gut is alive with micro-organisms and bacteria in every living person. It’s normal; the everyday function is to keep us healthy at our core. Though it’s bacteria, it’s good bacteria that fight off infection and disease.
It’s a very delicate balance and introducing other organisms and bacteria to the gut can have harmful effects. Usually, our bodies work to fight off the infection on their own, and a healthy microbiome can do that. There are some organisms it can’t completely kill off.
One of those organisms is what scientists have named IL-17a. This isn’t a newly discovered molecule. Scientists have seen it in cases of rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, but most recently identified it with links to autism as well. If it’s in the mother’s gut during gestation, it’s likely that it will have an impact on the baby’s brain development, leading to autism.
This molecule is considered inflammatory and can affect how the body reacts to stress, infection, or injury. Pharmaceutical companies have found ways to block this molecule for those with other diseases to which it’s linked, but it’s not so easy when it comes to autism.
When blocked in mothers, it could lead to a fungal infection, which presents a much greater danger to the child’s development. Instead of blocking it, developing mothers are encouraged to rebalance the bacteria in the microbiome. This can be done through a change in diet or by merely taking probiotics. In severe cases, there are other measures a mother can make with the help of her doctor.
Though mothers can be proactive, they cannot completely eradicate autism by attempting to fend off this molecule but is still a very positive discovery for autism research. If they’ve identified one molecule, the belief is that there are others that are waiting to be uncovered. With additional discoveries, there can be more progress in understanding how we can treat autism.