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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Autism, Measles Vaccine: No Link

Study Shows MMR Vaccine Is Not the Cause of Autism or Autism-Linked Intestinal Woes

Autism and Intestinal Disease

Importantly, Lipkin said the study confirmed that kids with autism often have "unrecognized and undertreated bowel complaints." He credited Wakefield with being the "first to recognize the importance of gastrointestinal disease in autism," but insisted that MMR vaccination cannot account for this.

These intestinal problems may well be linked to the developmental regression seen in about 25% of kids with autism. Some of these children appear developmentally normal and then slide into autism. Others may have mild autism symptoms and then become much more disabled, says study researcher Mady Hornig, MD, director of translational research at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health.

"The proportion of children with bowel disease and developmental regression underscores the possibility that this subset of kids with autism and intestinal problems may have separate problems that each contribute to their illness," Hornig said at the news conference.

That's a welcome thing to hear from mainstream researchers, says Sallie Bernard, executive director of SafeMinds, an autism-advocacy organization.

"On the plus side, this study has shown a link between gastrointestinal distress and regression in autism," Bernard tells WebMD. "A lot of people don't accept this and deny parents' perspective when they say their kids' with autism have GI trouble."

But Bernard says the Lipkin study does not close the book on the theory that MMR vaccine might trigger autism.

She notes that autism embraces a wide range of disorders likely caused or made worse by different factors. And the Lipkin study, Bernard says, was too small to clear MMR vaccination as a possible factor.

"I do see that some of the study authors, whom I like a lot, want to put MMR to rest as one of these factors. I respectfully disagree," she says. "I think it is premature to discount MMR from a study of this size. It is not a big enough sample to understand if there is a subgroup in which MMR is exacerbating or leading to the gastrointestinal inflammations we see in these children."

Lipkin and colleagues report their findings in the Sept. 4 issue of the online journal PloS One.

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