Background and Objectives:
Gastrointestinal disturbances have been frequently, but not unanimously, reported in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) individuals. Thus, digestive symptoms, such as constipation, diarrhea, abdominal bloating, and pain have been reported to correlate to the various maladaptive behaviors in ASD children, such as irritability, social withdrawal, stereotypy, hyperactivity, and even language regression. In this context, the present study provides an overview on the prevalence of the gastrointestinal (GI) disorders in ASD and the correlation between these and ASD symptoms and comorbidities and subsequently discusses the metabolic and microbiome factors underlying the effects of GI disorders in ASD. Materials and Methods:
For our analysis of GI symptoms in children with ASD, we have searched peer-reviewed journals from 2005 to 2017 in PubMed databases that addressed the specificity of GI symptoms in ASD and included correlations of GI and ASD symptoms. The criteria for inclusion were clear quantitative mentioning of GI modifications, GI symptoms correlation with specific ASD symptoms or comorbidities, an appropriate methodology for defining ASD, and larger size samples. For this topic, only studies on human patients and original research were considered. A subsequent search in PubMed databases in journals from 2000 to 2017 we analyzed 13 articles on the mechanisms underlying the impact of GI dysfunctions in ASD, including gut microbial dysbiosis, immune reactivity, genetics, and altered neurotransmitters on the gut–brain axis. Results:
In the 18 original research studies that we selected out of an initial 327 studies, despite the different methodology, a predominant 83% highlighted the increased prevalence of GI symptoms in ASD patients. Constipation was most frequently cited, appearing in 12 of the studies (80%), followed by diarrhea reports in eight studies (53%). The association between cognitive and behavioral deficits and GI disorders was suggested in certain groups of ASD individuals. Conclusion:
The evidence presented so far by numerous studies seems to indicate that GI dysfunctions are of particular relevance in ASD, underlined by various abnormalities along the nervous connections between the central nervous system and the gut, such as impaired parasympathetic activity and increased endocrine stress response. Sufficiently large size samples and standardized methodology are required for future studies to clarify the complex interactions between GI disturbances and ASD symptoms.
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