It’s been part of the autistic canon for so long that it often gets overlooked in our discussions of autism.
That is the observation that prior to the development of autism, many of our children had multiple ear infections, which were then treated with antibiotics. Many parents believe the antibiotic treatment in some way set the stage for their child’s autism. I know that my own daughter had several ear infections in her first year of life which were treated with antibiotics.
One of the problems in nailing down the extent to which antibiotics may affect the gut flora is that we really haven’t had a full understanding of the bacteria which live in a typical human digestive system.
That may begin to change with the publication of an article entitled, “The Pervasive Effects of an Antibiotic on the Human Gut Microbiota” and reported in the journal PLoS Biology. An accompanying article on the study was published in Science Daily on November 19, 2008. (“Antibiotics can Cause Pervasive, Persistent Changes to Microbiota in Human Gut.”)
David Relman and Les Dethlefsen of Stanford University, using a technique developed by Mitchell Slogin of the Marine Biological Laboratory were able to identify changes in the gut microbial communities of three healthy people after taking the antibiotic Ciproflaxin for five days. The scientists were able to identify roughly 3,300 to 5,700 different types of bacteria in the human gut and found that the antibiotic treatment affected about of a third of the identified bacteria.
Perhaps most ominously, the report found that while the bacterial community of these individuals recovered, many types of bacteria failed to recover within six months.
The Science Daily article noted, “This raises questions about the health effects of perturbations to the human-microbial symbiosis in the gut, such as may occur with antibiotic treatment. Because specific microbial populations mediate many chemical transformations in the gut-and previous studies have related these processes to cancer and obesity, among other conditions-changes in the composition of the gut microbiota could have important, but as yet undiscovered, health effects.”
Parents report that their healthy babies get ear infections, treatment with anti-biotics, multiple vaccinations, and then develop autism. Most of the time we only look at the last trigger to this disease, vaccination.
We should also be looking at what role antibiotics may play in this disorder.
Kent Heckenlively is Legal Editor for Age of Autism.