Obesity, Autism and Gut Bacteria

June 26, 2016

Obesity, Autism and Gut Bacteria


 References: Cell June 2016

 Did you know that women who are obese when pregnant give birth to autistic children at a 50% higher rate? Did you also know that the intestinal flora of obese folks differs from that of normal folks? 

Ok, take those as givens and follow this research thread. Take mice and make them obese by feeding them a very high-fat diet. You can show that their stool content dramatically changes to being much less diverse. Then, you observe the amount of time their pups spend in social behaviors and find that they interact for only 22 seconds out of 10 minutes, whereas normal pups average two minutes. And the pups of the obese mothers much prefer playing with a plastic cup, whereas normal mothers’ pups play with other pups. Sounds like autistic children, in mouse form. 

 Now, in mice, you can examine their gut flora in great detail, and then look at brain cells too. The obese mothers’ gut flora was markedly limited, as duplicated in their pups. When the pups were given access to normal mouse feces, (which all mice nibble on - getting probiotic infusions), their gut flora returned to normal, as did their social interaction. What was most interesting is that the differences in behavior were narrowed down to one bacteria species in the gut; Lactobacillus reuteri. 

It was 9 times more abundant in normal mothers feces, compared to the obese mothers. This is where their research got really interesting. Taking the "autistic" mice pups, they were given either live L. reuteri or dead L. reuteri in their drinking water. The pups that got the live bacteria were found to have normal brain development of the cells that produce oxytocin, and normal social behavior. The autistic mice pups that got the dead bacteria, didn't develop and remained socially isolated. The autistic mice pups that got the live bacteria still had 13% less oxytocin producing cells, but that was enough for them to develop into normal social behaving mice. 

 This evidence is so powerful, there are now multiple studies of oxytocin being given to children with autism. The field of social modulation of behavior is just getting started, with oxytocin front and center in that research. And now, what is opening up is that behavior may be driven by the bacteria in your gut. Can you take L. reuteri orally as a supplement? You sure can! Each species appears to have it's own strain

www.What Will Work for me? Well, I just learned about L. reuteri and it's effect on the gut, and subsequent effect on social behavior. I've seen oxytocin help a bunch of folks needing better sleep, less stress, more calm. Maybe what they need, and we all need is some way to measure L.reuteri in our gut, and some way to replace it if it's missing. I think the next stage needs to be what diet encourages it's growth. We know that including it in your diet can prevent weight gain, to some degree. I want to watch this story evolve. Way too interesting. 

 Pop Quiz

1. Obese mice's pups have less social interaction and fewer oxytocin producing cells in their brains, in alignment with fewer of bacterial species L. reuteri in their guts? T or F                       Answer:  That's it in a nutshell. 

 2. The same applies to humans. T or F                         Answer:  Not so fast. The oxytocin connection appears to be true but we can't biopsy human brains to complete the research circle. ‪

3. This research suggests that our mental frame of mind with socialization may be greatly affected by the bacteria in our gut. T or F                           Answer:  Exactly. 

 4. It is possible to take oxytocin as a supplement to see if it helps you with sleep, intimacy, headaches, social isolation, calmness. T or F                       Answer:   Well, true but it takes a physician's script to get access to it. 

 5. The diet that supplies the most L. reuteri to your gut is well defined. T or F                        Answer:  False. We don't know it yet. Fermented foods have it in abundance but often from strains not our own. Each species appears to have its own strain.