Constipation, Dysbiosis, Autism and a Prebiotic: A New Clinical Trial

The single most common gastrointestinal (GI) complaint I hear as a nutritionist, by a long way, is constipation…and the single best piece of advice I give my clients is “drink more water.”  It never ceases to amaze me how dehydrated most people are.  Invariably, I then  need to say, “and eat more fiber too.”  If you regularly read this blog, you don’t need me to remind you that in the industrialized world, we eat frighteningly low amounts of fiber.  Undoubtedly, this plays a huge role in not just GI issues, but in the negative alterations found in our microbiomes. Remember:  constipation is both the cause AND effect of dysbiosis.  So on this, World Microbiome Day, give some serious consideration to what you can do to improve your inner biome and thus, your, health.

On that note:  as you all know, I am constantly on the lookout for “things you can do now.”  Last night, I read a brand new clinical study done on children with autism, using a prebiotic supplement derived from guar gum (partially hydyolyzed guar gum, PHGG), which is a kind of carbohydrate that comes from the guar plant bean.[i]  The results were actually fairly remarkable and not just for those with autism, but for anyone suffering from constipation.

While I knew that constipation was rampant in the autism population, I was astounded by just how rampant.  One study found that 33.9% of 124 children tested were affected.

This 2 month+ long clinical study was done on 13 children with autism, ages 4-9, all of whom suffered from severe constipation.  9 of the children defecated once per week before the study,  while the other for went twice per week.  (Can you imagine?!)  The gut bacteria and aberrant behaviors were also analyzed before and after the study.

After supplementation with this PHGG prebiotic, “…defecation increased from two times to four times per week in all children.”  There were significant changes to the microbiome as well:  9 bacterial genera “changed significantly.”  Blood levels of inflammatory chemicals, including TNF-α (tumor necrosis factor, which is one of the main pro-inflammatory chemicals in the human body) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) decreased.  And perhaps most exciting of all, there were major decreases in irritability, measured by different autism rating scales.

The scientists were able to determine that it is likely the improvement in constipation that led to the alterations in the gut bacteria.  They point out that it is well established that constipation and gut dysbiosis “…lead to an increase in mucosal permeability (leaky gut…”  Scientists have found an increase in endotoxins (toxins from gut bacteria) in the blood of children with severe autism.  Several years back, in a seminal paper by Jyonouchi et. al,[ii] it was found that bacterial endotoxins caused an increase in the exact same pro-inflammatory chemicals that these Japanese scientists found decreased after treatment with the prebiotic (i.e. TNF-α and IL-6, etc.).  These authors state that their results demonstrate that supplementation with this prebiotic, “…helped decrease the load of endotoxins from the intestine, which in turn resulted in a decreased production of serum [blood] inflammatory cytokines.”  The authors conclude that this decrease in inflammation is likely not only the result of the improvement in constipation and leaky-gut, but this reduction in inflammation:  “…in the present study, although the number of samples from ASD children may be considered relatively small, our results indicate that PHGG supplementation to diets may be a good therapeutic approach for treating ASD symptoms.”

I took a look to see if this prebiotic is available for sale and found that yes, it likely is in different places in the world.  However, to find out if you can buy it where you live, you’d need to contact the company.  As I always ask: if any of you do try it, please let me know how you fare!

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[i] Inoue, R, et. al. Dietary supplementation with partially hydrolyzed guar gum helps improve constipation and gut dysbiosis symptoms and behavioral irritability in children with autism spectrum disorder.  Journal of clinical Biochemical Nutrition. 2019

[ii] Jyonouchi H, Sun S, Le H. Proinflammatory and regulatory cytokine production associated with innate and adaptive immune responses in children with autism spectrum disorders and developmental regression. Journal of Neuroimmunology. 2001; 120: 170–179.

2 Comments on “Constipation, Dysbiosis, Autism and a Prebiotic: A New Clinical Trial

  1. is there a specific brand to buy or stay away from Judy

    • Hi Toni. I’m sorry – somehow I missed your comment a couple of months ago. I apologize for the late response. I don’t know yet. It appears that different kinds of fibers feed different bacterial strains but…I’m not sure we yet know how to tailor this to individuals. I’ve tried several over the years. My favorites are listed on my “favorite products” page on the blog.

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