Compounds produced by gut bacteria alter immune function and energy metabolism in autism

Two recently published Canada-US research studies reinforce the notion that the human gut is a complex ecosystem - the microbiome - that exists in a delicate balance and exerts significant influence over human development, immunity, energy, health and behavior. This team is examining exactly how this occurs.

While the team's research focuses on autism - the rates of which have increased 200-fold in last 50 years - it has far-reaching implications for all humanity: Disrupt the gut bacterial balance and it can wreak havoc on your health and behavior.

Canadian neuroscientist Dr. Derrick MacFabe is available to explain how our gut bacteria are communicating with us, what it means for those living both with and without autism, and some DOs and DON'Ts when it comes to caring for the bacteria that takes care of us.

Dr. Derrick MacFabe's credentials:

  • Director, The Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group, London, Canada (founded at the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada)
  • Visiting Professor, Centre for Healthy Living and Food Innovation, Faculty of Medicine, Maastricht University, Netherlands
  • Core Member, iTARGET Autism Initiative, University of British Columbia, Canada
  • Fellow and Director, American College of Nutrition

Research highlights:

  • Gut bacteria ferment foods we eat leaving short-chain fatty acids as a byproduct
  • Short-chain fatty acids can affect immune function, cell-energy metabolism and genes regulating behavior in normal development, but are altered in autism and related conditions
  • Diet has the underappreciated effect of altering gut microbes and their products (i.e. short chain fatty acids), that have broad effects on our health and behavior
  • Shows autism involves more than genetics - the focus of most autism research
  • Validates long-held caregiver perceptions of gut-diet-behavior links in autism
  • Possible therapeutic indications for autism require further research, but the role of the microbiome and nutrition is clear

DOs and DON'Ts to care for your gut bacteria

  1. Eat a balanced diet focused on whole foods throughout your life, but particularly during pregnancy, infancy, childhood, and old age
  2. Avoid or reduce refined carbohydrates (sugars, bleached flours, processed foods) that gut microbes tend break down into propionate, a short chain fatty acid shown to have broad effects on immunity, metabolism, and behavior
  3. Reduce total carbohydrates and, of those you eat, focus on unprocessed roots and vegetables to promote butyrate production from gut microbes - butyrate may have a restorative effect on mitochondrial function during periods of cellular stress
  4. Eat fermented foods such as kimchee, yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha for the "beneficial bacteria" that may stabilize the gut microbiome
  5. Antibiotics are life-saving, so we must all use them appropriately because overuse, particularly early in life, appears to be altering gut bacteria, our health and, potentially, our behavior
  6. Avoid fad diets. Instead, focus on a balanced, varied diet with more whole foods, particularly vegetables, and reduce refined sugars

Fifteen years ago, concerned parent and founder of GoodLife Fitness, David Patchell-Evans, urged and supported Dr. MacFabe in conducting a rigorous scientific investigation into the observations that he shared with other ASD families and caregivers: that diet and gastrointestinal factors affect health and behavior of those with autism.

Patchell-Evans went on to co-found The Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group with $5.5 million and Dr. MacFabe as its internationally acclaimed director. Dr. MacFabe's research was recently presented at the Nobel Conference on Microbiome and Development in Stockholm and was listed among the top 50 Scientific Discoveries in Canada by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

View press release.