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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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GI Problems and Autism: No Link Found

Overall No Link Between Autism and Gastrointestinal Disorders, New Study Shows

GI Disorders & Autism Link: Interpretations

Explanations other than a GI disease probably explain the two GI symptoms found to be more common in the children with autism, Ibrahim tells WebMD.

Children with autism often show ritualistic tendencies and a need for routine, such as sameness in the diet. They may not drink enough water or take in enough fiber, practices that can lead to constipation and the feeding issues, she says.

"Some are on medications that slow down the gut," she says, and that could also contribute to constipation problems. Her conclusion: subgroups of children may have GI problems that may be the result of their behavioral characteristics.

She cautions that children with autism shouldn't be treated with restrictive diets until there is evidence of a GI disorder.

In an interview with WebMD, Mark A. Gilger, MD, a gastroenterologist at Baylor University who wrote an accompanying editorial, says, ''There have been questions surrounding the gut and autism for many, many years."

The Mayo research team, he says, "were probably trying to put the story to rest. What they found is they couldn't fully put it to rest. They raise the spectrum there could be subtypes in which there could be something going on [with the gut]."

In the editorial, Gilger, who is section head of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at Baylor, writes about the many suggested links between GI disorders and autism, dating back decades.

Among other suggestions, some experts have proposed that a GI abnormality leads to both intestinal inflammation and neuropsychiatric dysfunction.

More recently, Gilger writes, Vanderbilt University researchers reported that disrupted signaling involving a protein called MET, which is involved in brain development, gut repair, and other functions in the body, ''may contribute to the risk for autism spectrum disorder that includes familial gastrointestinal dysfunction."

More research is needed, Gilger says, especially leads about genetic links such as the Vanderbilt research.

GI Disorders & Autism Link: Second Opinion

''The study is important but not definitive," says Geraldine Dawson, PhD, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, an advocacy group.

"It's very possible there are subgroups of kids [with autism] where part of their symptoms involve the GI tract."

She says the study points to the need for more study -- and to the need to not chalk up all behavior changes to the autism.

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