Intestinal Woes

One of the things the AoAers and many biomed parents like to trot out is the idea that intestinal issues are to blame for autism. As someone with lifelong issues in that area, I absolutely and from a personal perspective get how these issues impact quality of life and certainly mood. When you're in pain, it's really difficult to deal with things. However, there is no good science linking autism to intestinal distress.

Are intestinal issues common in autistic individuals? Yes, they are. Science Daily reports on a new study: "A new study conducted by Autism Speaks' Autism Treatment Network (ATN) shows that GI symptoms occur in nearly half of children with ASD, and the prevalence increases as children get older."

Are they common in the general public? Yes, they are: "Results: In the 10 selected studies, the reported prevalence of upper abdominal symptoms (mostly upper abdominal pain or discomfort) ranged from approximately 8% to 54%, while the prevalence of heartburn and/or regurgitation ranged from 10% to 48% for heartburn, from 9% to 45% for regurgitation and 21% to 59% for both/either" (Heading, 1999). And that's just the upper GI problems.

Why might intestinal and digestive issues be so common to both the general population and those with autism? The reasons are myriad. One factor that must be looked at is diet. It's a fair assumption that individuals with autism with restrictive diets that don't meet the nutritional requirements are going to have some problems, especially if fiber isn't being consumed in sufficient quantity. If you have a low fiber diet, you're going to have pain associated with the formation of the fecal matter. How many people make sure that they get enough fiber? That they don't consume more fat than they can break down? That they don't consume too many foods that cause bloating and gas? If the average joe isn't expending a whole lot of time making sure to consume foods so as to minimize gastrointestinal distress, then, it isn't any surprise that individuals with even more limited diets are going to have even more issues.

Yes, intestinal issues are common in individuals with autism, but that has nothing to do with causing autism.  Ibrahim et al. (2009) conclude: "As constipation and feeding issues/food selectivity often have a behavioral etiology, data suggest that a neurobehavioral rather than a primary organic gastrointestinal etiology may account for the higher incidence of these gastrointestinal symptoms in children with autism."

I know, expecting parents who have felt the need to blame everything on the autism and everything for the autism are going to be really poor at sifting through all the data and coming to a sound, scientifically-based conclusion. And they're not likely going to get any better at figuring out what behaviors are caused by the differences in neurology and what are not, which symptoms are autistic symptoms and which are symptoms caused by something else, like, for example, the quack treatments they put their children through.


David said...

I've been meaning to write something about this. I am in constant abdominal pain, not very bad, usually, but it's literally always there. I just put up with it, and I've never been willing to disrupt my life looking for something that might fix it.

Roger Kulp said...

Hi Kim,Does your son have GI disease too?My mother has always had GI disease that's even worse than my sister and I do.

KWombles said...

Fortunately, none of my three have GI issues on a regular basis (only on a highly infrequent basis do they complain; I'm very glad for this, as when they do have an issue, it's very difficult for them to process, understand, and deal with the discomfort).

We've worked hard to make sure they eat a healthy diet that contains the appropriate amount of fiber, and we insist that they eat a wide variety of foods; although they would prefer to be much pickier eaters than they are, one meal is made for the family and everybody has to have at least a few bites of every food.

I wouldn't wish GI issues on anyone; they make a tremendous contribution to a decreased quality of life. Not looking into the potential for various treatments to create intestinal woes (and thereby contributing to a child's physical discomfort) along with not ensuring a nutritionally adequate diet and exacerbating those GI issues seems at the very least a highly irresponsible behavior on a parent's part.

Roger Kulp said...

Agreed.Your children are lucky in that regard,as a lot of the mothers I hae met on the web have GI disease as well as their children,yet they still toe the antivaxer line.Now that I finally have a really competent doctor,I have been insisting my mother,who has many of the medical issues I do,come alng with me,and finally get some tests.Not only does my mother have MTHFR mutations,which doesn't surprise me,considering her history of noncoronary heart and more recently cerebrovascular disease,like mine,but she also has a subacute primary immune deficiency,so there are any number of candidates for the congenital infection at the root of my autism.

When I was a kid,the only real congenital infection they knew about that could cause autism,was rubella,now they know almost any serious infection can,and most of these cause GI problems.

As I have said,it takes a lot of work to get to the bottom of this stuff,and perhaps the biggest obstacle is finding a doctor who is willng to do the tests needed,and stick with you until you get to the root of the cause.Did you read the article I linked to last week ?What it says about autstics with medical problems falling through the cracks is very accurate.I know I lved it for decades.The lack of treatment discused in this article,is exactly what leads families to DAN! quacks,and the lack of an underlying diagnosis is what leads them to antivaxer woo.