New Study Shows ‘Compelling Evidence’ of Major Intestinal Immune Disease In Children With Autism
Thoughtful House scientists and collaborators confirm link between autism and new inflammatory bowel disease
Austin, Texas – In a study that provides further clues to understanding the origins of autism, scientists and physicians from Thoughtful House Center for Children in Austin, Texas, supply considerable evidence of a new inflammatory bowel disease in children with autism. The study will be published this month in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at http://thoughtfulhouse.org/pub_06.htm
The team studied 178 children undergoing intestinal investigation for gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain. More than 140 of these children also had autism, most having regressed after normal early development. The children with autism had an increased rate of swelling of the intestinal lymph glands (lymphoid nodular hyperplasia) – a feature of viral infections and immunodeficiency diseases such as AIDS.
Additionally, the children with autism experienced associated inflammation of the intestinal lining, while the children examined in the study without autism did not. The degree of swelling of the intestinal lymph glands was also more severe in children with autism compared with developmentally normal children.
“The results of this study give us additional clues on understanding what is going on in the gut and how it may lead to the brain disorder,” says Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Executive Director of Thoughtful House and the lead author on the paper. “We are working on the idea that what starts in the intestine can be severely disruptive to normal brain development.”
The paper dispels the common misconception that the presence of swollen lymph glands is a normal finding in children.
“When we compare the intestinal findings in children with and without autism in a systematic way, the differences become obvious,” says Dr. Wakefield, “Colonoscopies are not performed on normal children, but on children with gastrointestinal symptoms, so it is not possible to state that this is a normal finding. The findings of this new study add to the clear evidence of a novel and treatable disease of the intestinal immune system in children with developmental disorders.
These are medical diseases which should be treated as such. Children are suffering needlessly and this has got to change.” The presence and severity of the swollen lymph glands was not influenced by exclusion diets that some children were on, suggesting that food allergy or intolerance was not the cause. The fact that these children also have abnormal immune systems and the resemblance of the disease to the intestinal findings in some patients with HIV infection suggests the disease may be associated with a smoldering viral infection.
“This study, in combination with previous work, raises the possibility that treating bowel disease may alleviate some of the symptoms of autism itself,” says Dr. Wakefield. “This is something Thoughtful House will be putting to test in the near future.”