Researchers say they are cautiously optimistic about a small study that showed that fecal transplants improved both gastrointestinal and behavioral symptoms in children with autism disorders.
Over several weeks, children experienced an improvement of about 80 percent in gastrointestinal symptoms and an improvement of about 25 percent in behavioral symptoms, said Ann Gregory, one of the study's authors and a microbiology graduate student at Ohio State University. Improvements remained even after treatment was stopped.
Children with autism often have severe gastrointestinal problems, and other research has shown that bacteria in the guts of children could play a role in their behavioral health.
The 18 children, who had moderate to severe gastrointestinal problems, were treated with antibiotics to clear out much of the flora in their gastrointestinal tracts. Then they were given liquids with large amounts of gut microbiota, containing 99 percent bacteria, taken from fecal donors. The transplants were performed either rectally or orally.
Children drank smoothies with smaller amounts of the microbiota in the following seven to eight weeks.
Parents and doctors of the children, ages 7 to 16, were surveyed to assess changes, and stool samples were analyzed.
For eight weeks after treatment, researchers saw a decrease in symptoms such as abdominal pain, indigestion, diarrhea and constipation in all but two of the patients. And, on average, the developmental age of the children increased by 1.4 years.
Further, the bacteria in the guts of the children shifted toward that seen in the guts of children without autism disorders.
Researchers were surprised at the extent of the improvements, Gregory said, and a second phase of the study is planned.
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