Pathogenic Yeast and Autism: Is the Mycobiome a Factor?

Tuesday evening I printed out a bunch of new articles to read that looked potentially interesting. I’ve so far made it through 2, and one of those did not disappoint.

A brief seque:  I’ve probably mentioned this before, but because of my autism longevity (with Alex now being 24 years old), one of the questions I have been asked the most by parents I’ve worked with is “what treatments seemed to work the best for the most kids on the spectrum?”  My answer has not changed for the past 12 years or so:  nothing has come close to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and helminths – which, in my experience help most kids most of the time – but there are a few other things that work often, just not the majority of the time.  Of those, high dose fish oil and anti-fungal medicines rank highest.

Thus, I had high hopes for an article[i] just published this past November looking at the levels of anti-Candida antibodies in the autism population, and as I said, I was not disappointed.  By the way,  I’ve written about the mycobiome in schizophrenia (which is very closely related to autism (and in fact, is sometimes called “adult onset autism”)) several times.   In May, 2017, I discussed research showing high levels of anti-Sacchromyces cerevisiae (a yeast which is also a marker for gut inflammation) antibodies in that population  and then, this past September, I wrote about a study testing a probiotic to treat those high yeast levels.

Based on these kinds of studies, and my own experience of seeing anti-fungal medications make a huge difference in many children, I was not surprised by the results presented in the paper, especially as previously published science showed high levels of Candida in individuals with autism based upon cultures and stool studies.  In this case, the scientists were looking for blood antibodies which would imply that yeast was making its way out of the leaky gut and into the blood stream, leading to an inflammatory response.

The study included 80 children between the ages of 3 and 13, 52 with autism, and 28 typically developing controls.  36.5% of the children with autism tested positive for Candida antibodies, as opposed to only 14.4% of the controls.

A few points made in the discussion section that are worth sharing with you:

  1. “Fungal overgrowth has been implicated in inflammatory bowel disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and was recently discovered within the cells of post-mortem brain tissue in Alzheimer’s patents.” That last bit of info about Alzheimer’s blew me away.   I’ll have to follow up on that.
  2. Yeast is a very opportunistic organism and can easily become problematic in people who are immune compromised. So while the source of the high levels of Candida is unknown, it may “…be influenced by the immune dysfunction seen in many children with ASD.”  The authors go on to say, “This raises questions as to whether dysbiosis is present very early in life in ASD and may be involved in the etiology of ASD that need further investigation.”  Ya think?
  3. Since the bacterial microbiome and the mycobiome affect each other tremendously (think about how easy it is to pick up a yeast infection after being on antibiotics!), early exposure to Candida may lead to alterations in the bacterial microbiota: “…if Candida is present in very early life it could interfere with initial colonization and the successions of composition during the early transitional stages of microbiota development leading to dysbiosis.”  (Now that is just what a mom of a baby given antibiotics for 5 days starting at 36 hours old wants to hear.  NOT.)
  4. And where might such early-in-life exposure come from? “If Candida is overgrown in mother during gestation, it could potentially be passed on to offspring as an early colonizer, interfering with normal colonization.  Furthermore, the immune response to fungal overgrowth includes elevations of interleukin (IL)-17. This cytokine is implicated in maternal immune activation (MIA) models of ASD, and without it ASD behaviors in MIA offspring were absent.”  In other words, early yeast exposure via the mother leads to early immune activation and inflammation in the baby.

I believe this is going to turn out to be a very important area of research in chronic “mental” illnesses going forward.  I will, of course, keep my eye out to bring you the latest.

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[i] Hughes, HK, Ashwood, P. Anti-candida albicans IgG antibodies in children with autism spectrum disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2018:9(627).

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