Study looks at effects of probiotics on those with autism

HOUSTON – Studies show what happens in the gut microbiome may affect brain function. Now, UT Health is doing the first study on kids with autism and how they're affected by probiotics.

Houston teenager, Adam, is sweet, calm and likes showing off a little trivia, but his behavior used to be violent, according to his mother, Cherita Galvez.

“His whole demeanor, expression, everything just started to change and he started to exhibit some psychiatric problems. aggression, profanity, things that we just became very, very concerned about because they were very uncharacteristic,” Galvez said.

So, she enrolled Adam in the UT Health study with Dr. Marc Rhoads, pediatric gastroenterologist with UTHealth/UT Physicians. 

“There are about 8 studies suggesting kids with autism have reduced microbial diversity and they have a skewed population of bacteria,” Rhoads said. “There are many reasons. They get treated more often with antibiotics, they have dietary selectiveness, they're very picky eaters and we think that an abnormal microbiota may contribute to symptoms of gas and abdominal pain.”

That's true for Adam.

“Our son has suffered from severe constipation and a very narrow, limited diet, he would only eat two or three things,” Galvez said.

Rhoads believes prescription probiotics will help him and affect behaviors of a lot of the 4- to 16-year-olds in his study.

“Even if it's only 25% improvement in their behavior, we think it might be better than that, then it's worth trying,” Rhoads said.

Some of the participants are getting a placebo pill, but Galvez said since there’s been a dramatic difference in Adam’s behavior, they're convinced they're getting the real thing.

However, they add, in addition to the probiotic trial, they've started a healthier lifestyle.

“The key for our son was changing his diet and introducing probiotics, and exercise!”

Those interested in enrolling their child may call 713-500-5669.