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Autism: A microbe for improved social connection?

Gut feeling.

Probiotics are a common supplement used to strengthen the microbiome. We know that a healthy microbiome can have a positive influence on behaviour and well-being. We also know that colonies of clostridia-type bacteria and other less beneficial species can negatively affect behaviour and health. These gut bacteria are able to influence our brain through the vagus nerve, which links our gut with our brain. and the gut-immune-brain-axis that these tiny microbes can influence the way are children think, feel and behave.


One specific microbe has gained attention for improving social interaction in animal models. This bacteria increases the neuropeptide oxytocin known for its ability to strengthen social bonds. In these studies L-Reuteri, without the support of other microbes, was able to shift focus from simple objects to social interaction.

We need an element of caution because this is an animal model. However, L.Reuteri originates from human breast milk and could be a welcome beneficial bacteria for a child who wasn’t breast fed or who was exposed to antibiotics in their first year of life.

We know that gastro-intestinal problems are common in children with autism and that the severity of these issues can sometimes correlate with an increase in autism-behaviours. GI dysfunction tends to cover diarrhoea/constipation, abdominal pain, gas, bloating and/or foul smelling bowel movements or a history of these. Investigating the gut microbiome via a comprehensive stool test or an Organic Acid Test can be helpful when investigating the microbiome.

Emerging research supporting the role the gut-brain axis in autism is giving us tools with which to influence health in clinical nutrition practice. L.Reuteri given as a supplement could be a useful tool in instances where social connection is of primary concern.

Related links.

Nutrient deficiencies in autism.

Biomedical Testing: Organic Acids Test (OAT) for Autism, Depression and Anxiety.

Why do we need special diets for autism?

Can gut bacteria influence anxiety?

Infographic – factors affecting gut microbes

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Author: Sarah Hanratty

Sarah is a specialist practitioner at the Brain Food Clinic. She has a degree in Nutritional Medicine and is a certified Gut and Psychology Syndrome Practitioner. Sarah helps people to overcome physical and mental health issues using bespoke nutritional protocols.

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