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Autism and the Microbiome:1st International Symposium and an Odyssey

MicrobiomeNote: Read Teresa Conrick's full series on the Microbiome in our AofA Exclusives category.

By Teresa Conrick

Research on the microbiome is booming.  I recently read that smartphones could be used as a sensor for personal mirobiome analysis demonstrating that the microbiome is becoming a mainstream concept.   “Our cell phones actually reflect the personal microbial world of their owners, with potential implications for their use as bacterial and environmental sensors, according to new research….University of Oregon researchers sequenced microbes from the dominant-hand index fingers and thumbs of 17 subjects…The study found smartphones closely resembled the microbiome sampled from their owner's finger, with 82 percent of the most common bacteria on participants' fingers also found on their phones.”

I continue to read and write about the relationship between the microbiome and autism for some very important reasons.  First, I have a very ill daughter, called autistic yet affected by infections and now, an autoimmune diagnosis.  In addition, there are thousands like her around the world.  The significance of the microbiome and this first symposium is tremendous. Whether you have a child who has a diagnosis of AUTISM, PANDAS, PANS, IMMUNE DYSFUNCTION, or a combination of these, the studies of the microbiome are showing how the puzzle pieces may fit. I want to thank John Rodakis and N of One for organizing this first symposium on autism and the microbiome.

For me, leaving town is not an easy feat.  Like many of you who live with a child who is chronically TCozarks ill, a departure from their care can be difficult.   I told Meg, who has had GI issues since regression at age two, nonverbal since that regression, seizures starting at age sixteen and then positive for antinuclear antibodies at eighteen, that I was going to go on this trip to learn how to get her feeling better.  She smiled and smelled my hand, giving me a tiny kiss as she ran off to her favorite swing. That day was a good one for her but there are too many not good.  She deserves a pain-free life where GI pain, vocal tics, OCD and self-injurious behavior disappear. Leaving gluten, casein and soy-free meals plus 3 days of medications and supplements, I left Chicago for Little Rock.  I decided to drive as I wanted to stop in Missouri after the conference and visit the cemetery where my parents are buried, along with my maternal grandmother.  My parents had bought land in the Ozarks years and years ago as a serene goal for retirement.  My father died in 1993, the year Megan was born and my mother died in 1996, the year Megan was diagnosed with autism. Not an easy time for me. I had not been to the cemetery since then, as Megan’s many medical and behavioral issues made life challenging. There were some connections in my family history that the microbiome research may help answer, including Meg’s autism, which seemed to be infections and behaviors that trapped her. More about that connection on the return trip.  

It was about a 10 hour drive from the flat farms of Illinois into the Ozarks and beyond. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the progression of Meg’s illness and my anticipation of hearing from some of the top researchers around the world on what I believe to be the root of her symptoms and her AUTISM.  I was not going to be disappointed as they were cutting-edge topics. Luckily, a new and good friend had also decided that the microbiome research was important to her family too, and decided to attend.  Wendy Nawara (in photo on right) has three children and they each have PANDAS.  She started the TCwendy and meIL PANDAS/PITAND/PANS Advocacy and Support group, a place on FaceBook where parents can discuss treatments and the many issues of these increasing disorders. She also was instrumental in reaching out to Governot Pat Quinn and having him proclaim Oct. 9 as PANDAS/PITAND/PANS Awareness Day in Illinois. I am a member of Wendy’s group, as a good number of us have children also with an Autism diagnosis or a combination of sibling children with PANDAS/PANS or Autism.  That may be another clue in this whole explosion of illnesses of the microbiome.  Since one of those noted researchers in Little Rock was Dr. Sue Swedo, famous now for her PANDAS studies and support of medical help for so many affected children, both Wendy and I were hopeful that the spark would take off on microbiome research and treatments.

I want to also say thank you to John C. Slattery, Clinical Research Coordinator and Dr. Richard Frye MD, PhD. Director of Autism Research of Arkansas Children’s Hospital for planning and promoting this excellent symposium, the Autism Research Program (and Clinic), and also thank the Arkansas Autism Alliance. Many of our families are hopeful about this pertinent research and would like to attend next year.   Please keep us posted.

You can see each participant and read their related bios here  as well as check back for the soon-to-be added videotaped presentations.  Some of the brief highlights that I noted and paraphrased:

Dr. Richard Frye: Man disrupted beneficial bacteria. Diseases are erupting. Mitochondrial dysfunction in Autism may in fact be connected to the dysfunction of the microbiome.

John Rodakis:  Discussed his own son, diagnosed with autism, and his improvement when on antibiotics. When he had Strep, his son on the antibiotic could ride a tricycle, (he and many of us were choked up as our kids are just so ill) because for years before that, his son was not able to ride the trike. He feels we need to understand the biology of autism. The kids can get better. There is hope. Something Man- made. In our lifetime, we need to know!

Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe:  Breast milk is good. Babies have less colonization than years ago. Hand sanitizer may be bad, kills off too much and may affect the number and types of microbes. It may be important to look at how microbes exist and not just the numbers. C diff infections: replace the damage by fecal transplant. 90% cured of c diff. Concern for pathogens in samples. Long term unknown, so working on pure bacteria.----“Repoopulate.” , a kind of robot they made that makes gut bacteria. 

Dr. William Parker:  Helminths and rats were an integral part of his presentation but in a good way! He talked about how the microbiome has changed and helpful helminthes that used to be around have become extinct.  His lab uses indoor and also outdoor rats to examine differences in the microbiome.  From his bio: “Such differences likely explain the rising incidence of hyper-immune associated disorders such as allergy and autoimmune disease in countries with modern medical practice. Loss of particular components, including helminthes, from the human biome is likely responsible for many of the changes, and it is hoped that this situation can be reversed.”

Dr. Jim Adams and Dr. Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown: Both from Arizona State University, they discussed results from their research   on the microbiome in children with an autism diagnosis compared to neurotypical peers.  Conclusions from that paper: “…the group hypothesized the existence of distinctive features in the intestinal microflora found in autistic subjects compared to typical children. The current study confirmed these suspicions, and found that children with autism had significantly fewer types of gut bacteria, probably making them more vulnerable to pathogenic bacteria.  Autistic subjects also had significantly lower amounts of three critical bacteria, Prevotella, Coprococcus, and Veillonellaceae.”Currently, they are enrolling subjects to examine fecal transplants as a potential treatment for autism and GI issues.

Dr. Carl Cerneglia: He is Director of the Division of Microbiology, for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  His presentation had a focus on the microbiome and possible effects from Man, with an emphasis on antibiotics in many of the foods consumers buy.

Dr. Tore Midtvedt: He feels there needs to be a paradigm shift and he, himself, has changed his attitude from microbe killer to microbe lover. He reported too that some bacteria can switch our genes on and off.

Dr. Derrick MacFabe: His focus has been on Propionic Acid (PPA), a fermentation by-product of a subpopulation of opportunistic enteric bacteria (i.e clostridia, desufovibrio, propionibacteria). His description of the research here:

“Examination of brain tissue from PPA treated rats (brain sections, homogenate, ToF-SIMS imaging, gene arrays) reveals an innate neuroinflammatory response (reactive astrogliosis and activated microglia, CREB activation), an increase in oxidative stress markers, reductions in cholesterol, altered phospolipid/acylcarnitine profiles, mitochondrial dysfunction and a reduction of glutathione, a broad spectrum xenobiotic detoxifier. Current studies in our laboratory are finding similar effects with systemic infusions of PPA at the post natal and adolescent times and with infusions of butyric acid, a related gut short chain fatty acid. These findings are consistent with those found in ASD patients.”

Connected to that research is the fact that many children diagnosed autistic, who are put on vancomycin, an antibiotic effective against c diff, had a significant improvement in their behavioral symptoms.  This was discovered by a mother, Ellen Bolte, who I had the privilege of meeting in Little Rock. I had learned about Ellen and her connection to that initial research on the microbiome and autism about twenty years ago, but had never met with her. Megan has had numerous c. diff infections and always improves in health and behaviors on Flagyl, a related antibiotic.

Dr. Swedo spoke after all of the researchers presented their findings.  I have to say that her slides and TCswedo1comments reflected some of the older research, with maybe a more skeptical view than most regarding the microbiome.  It may come with the territory of NIMH, and I say that not in disrespect but that quite possibly there are more questions than answers at this time. I also want to add that it may be that Dr. Swedo and quite possibly NIMH, have not fully accepted “regressive autism.” Again, thousands of parents, myself, included, cannot be ignored nor can the research showing these connections. I know the researchers were all meeting as a team and I do hope that Dr. Swedo’s keen interest in so many ill children will have her motivated to recommend the investment of both time and money into the microbiome research.

Two topics that came up throughout the presentations - 1) the issue of glutathione reduction and use of Tylenol and 2) the huge issue of antibiotics in our food supply as well as the pattern reported by parents of their ASD child being on antibiotics often as babies and toddlers.  Antibiotics have a profound effect on the microbiome and there are concerns that they are having a negative impact on bacterial populations.

One thing that I keep pondering, which was connected to my trip to Missouri, is mercury.  The history of mercury shows us that it was used for hundreds of years as --- an antibiotic!  I have written about this before because my family has a history of mercury exposures.  My father was a doctor, an ophthalmologist, and a surgeon from the 1940's until 1980, and the use of Thimerosal® and Wydase® was a common practice.  Both are a form of Man-made mercury and were used as a bacteriocide.  My maternal grandfather died of General Paralysis of the Insane (GPI), a disease brought on when Syphilis, a bacteria, was treated with, for example, mercuric chloride , a Man-made poison used as an antibiotic. Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmsted did an elegant job tracing the history of mercury  and the related diseases that have been caused from its different forms. There is research showing generational connections to mercury  and the microbiome may be a key.

TCcemeteryIn Missouri, I visited my parents and my grandmother’s grave.  All three had been affected by the insidious nature of mercury.  It is a beautiful and historic cemetery and while I sat there, I felt hopeful that the microbiome research will give us many answers to the puzzling pieces in front of us.  Stay tuned.

Teresa Conrick is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.



I watched it too, very informative. Very hopeful. So glad they posted all of them. I think it's important to keep an eye on the impact of microbes in other disease patterns, too, in case they shed light on what happens in the guts of those vulnerable to autism. Here is one I thought has some interesting overlapping ideas about virus invading the gut in HIV, and a microbe that might play a part in mitigating the ensuing destruction of the epithelial layer and inflammation.

Liz Lauren

Teresa its good to here about microbiome

Teresa Conrick

Hi All and thanks for the nice comments.

Hopefully the presentations will be up soon and will answer some of your questions. It was great to be able to attend and I feel optimistic that this research will be very helpful to so many of us.


Thank you for going to the conference! I would have liked to have gone. Were there a lot of parents there? Was there any hope or push for treatments in the near future? Were probiotics discussed? Were any strains seen as more important than others? I see this as the most important event in autism research in a long time.


Teresa, Fantastic article, as always! Glad to hear you and Wendy shared a ride down and back. Oh, to have been a "fly on the wall" on the inside of that car... Oh what I could have learned from you both!
Much appreciation for all you do to educate us all.


According to a recent book by the parents of an autistic boy, cutting out every single man-made chemical from the food chain helped their boy recover. Reducing Autism Poisoning Impacts by Adeerus Ghayan on Amazon .
Book is available free on Amazon. Boys parents have even cut out sugar and salts from the diet, using only farm fresh fruits and vegetables.


I appreciate the summary of the microbiome meeting. I listened to it until I had no choice but go to a meeting. I don't know many people in the dire situation as my 40 year old son with autism, IDD, and mH issues who has paralyzed bowels. He was making some progress with toilet training by a nurse in an institution but found out later when the nurse retired then his toilet training stopped because the Texas Education Agency paying for his institutional care wouldn't pay for the toilet training. My son had a third severe bowel impaction and his bowel muscles stopped allowing him to push out his feces. We have found a device that will pull out his feces like an upper and lower GI vacuum but can't get any insurance to pay for it...Medicare, private insurance or Medicaid. Have appealed too to the TX dept of aging and Disability Services. There are more people out that with the same issue but often they die because the digital finger approach doesn't clear the bowel system like the procedure my son uses. And, i breast fed him two years.Research is in its infancy. I asked the GI doc about Vancomycin and he said the price for that is unconscionable so he wouldn't even consider it. I would have given anything to attend that meeting but I just couldn't afford it.


Thank-you for sharing - there is so much to this microbiome change line of thinking, and mercury & vaccines fit into the puzzle quite nicely.

Also, in light of the findings and patient reports about tylenol given in conjuntion w/earaches & vaccines, & its affects on glutathione, I suddenly wondered if acetaminophen could be having an effect as an antibiotic? This link suggests yes.

And the effects of an antibiotic in the presence of acetaminophen on drug resistant bacteria was higher. What does mercury (an antibiotic) in combo w/acetamin. do to the microbiome - completely destroy it without anyone knowing that happened? People wouldn't know to do probiotics in that scenerio.

This also begs the question - does the bacterial microbiome control or even stop viral infection from taking root in the body? If yes, and acetaminaphen may have antibacterial effects, what happens if you take away good bacteria by giving paracetomol after you shoot a live virus directly into the body - like during some vaccines? Yes, acet. is a pain reliever and reduces glutathione, but what else does it do to a body that we don't know for sure?

And if acetaminophen, with its possible antibiotic properties, also reduces glutathione, could that mean that other, regularly prescribed antibiotics, reduce glutathione levels also, including glyphosate, which is not just being used as a pesticide during growing season, but also being used as a topical antibacterial / ripening process agent when harvest time comes.

And maybe even deeper into this rabbit hole: If antibiotics and things like glyphosate and maybe even fluoride and chlorine in the water, could possibly spur a reduction in glutathione levels in a body, could antibiotic supergerms be surviving now by bypassing or even actively shutting down glutathione detox pathways/epigentically shutting off the glutathione genetic markers? I'm just asking . . .

Are mthfr snps an indicator of glutathione pathway failure spurred by a survival mechanism in the bacteria responding to attempts to eliminate them?

If we know, from GMO studies, the the DNA from toxin producing bacteria in GMO corn can migrate to other bacteria in the gut, could glutathione-resistant bacteria be procreating in stomachs and explain a pattern of improvement in autism or panda symptoms during antibiotic use, followed by a slow regression again?

The epigenetics of glutathione shut off agents could be passed from mother to child, explaining both autism from birth, as well as regressive autism, and explains the beginning of autism with mercury in farming and being added to vaccines, as well as the timing of the huge jump in numbers of autism during the mercury at birth Hep B era which is very close to the gmos/rise in glyphosate hitting the market.

Will reversing the rise in autism numbers mean examining and finding what environmental agents, including antibiotics and pesticides and heavy metals use (mining, burning coal, use in medicines and vaccines - previously underground and not pressuring bacteria above ground where humans live) cause reduction in glutathione/immune response, similarly to how the discovery of the mechanism of zonolin is spurring research into what, besides cholera and gluten, can open up the tight junctures and lead to leaky gut.

And just to find some kind of end to this tangled line of thought, what could happen if glutathione-pathway resistant bacteria got out of the gut and into the blood stream through leaky gut and went to the head or the joints or where ever. Could that type of bacteria simultaneously be responsible for activating zonolin and be directly responsible for the opening of the tight junctures?

If there was anything to all of this, in order to reverse the rise in autism and all the other stuff going on, a parenting couple would need to be checked for properly functioning glutathione pathways and if needed, rectify the situation prior to getting pregnant, as well as clear out any resistant bacteria and repopulate with healthy non-resistant bacteria and germs, all prior to conception. Then they would have to avoid antibiotics in all shapes (vaccines, pesticides, heavy metals in air/food/water/medicines) during pregnancy, and the child would need to avoid any resistant-causing agents post birth.
Leaky gut would need to be fixed BEFORE getting pregnant.

Any vaccines would HAVE to go back to being oral - they absolutely need to retrace their steps to figure out the bad reaction to polio oral - maybe those people were already carriers of bad bacteria balances. Could antibiotics/pesticides/heavy metals or resistant bacteria also be turning off IgA systems/antibody systems in mucus membrane in the body as a survival mechanism?)

These active steps would need to happen continually for each generation.


kathy blanco

It is the Social Determinants of Health that determine health status...people get horribly unwell from lack of clean air, water, education, financial security etc...then down stream vaccines are required to fix these problems...the more Medical our world becomes, the more clinical tasks are offered up as solutions to "illness" the more ill we become...Say "No" to attitudes that limit our freedom to "Question"...



Thank you so much for sharing the highlights of the conference information. There are so many of us that have daughter's just like yours that are fighting every day to get them healthier. You make that fight easier with all of the knowledge that you acquire and share with all of us. Thank you and God Bless you!


Slightly off-topic but here is a link to a slide show from 2007 where Dr. Swedo discusses regressive autism, PANDAS and environmental triggers. My personal view is that Dr. Swedo is limited by her position in government in what she can research and discuss. I find her last slide very interesting and I often wonder why the NIMH backed away from this type of research. --


Recently I read about the use of chrome yellow (lead chromate) as a food colorant. This led to the jaw-dropping discovery (for me) that mercury often in the form of vermilion/vermillion was used that way too. These yellow and red colorants were routinely put into bakery goods and candy (which also contained other metallic colorants). Then I read somewhere that there was an explosion of confectioner's shops at the time of the Industrial Revolution. Hm.

But in fact, around that time all kinds of weird crap was introduced into all kinds of foods and often in large quantities. What effect would that have on the microbiome? The extent of food adulteration was first exposed by Friedrich Accum in 1820 (book downloadable from amazon). Accum, by the way, was hounded out of England for his efforts.

In 1855 Dr. Arthur Hassall published _Food and its Adulterations_. That's in a nice searchable form here:

Bob Moffitt

God bless you Theresa .. for all your hard work and diligence ..

If I could cast a vote to elect someone to the IACC as a representative of my family .. it would be you.

Maurine Meleck

Let me be the first to comment on this important read. Thanks so much Teresa for writing about the microbiome. I managed to hear a majority of the speakers live from the conference and was totally blown away. They are all still available to view and present such valuable information.


In this Besthda conference - they talk about communities of microbes - are differnt in those with IBS. Some sound hopeful in changing these communities through diet and other ways-- and then here comes this immunologist to speak and he scares me to death.

His speech is: "Approaches for Host Immune/Microbiome Studies" - Dan Rudolf Littman

He talks about how micros signal the immune system to not attack them -- but this can be changed. He talks a lot about Th 17.


Here it all is in a more orderly fashion.

Of course it would be held in Bethesda, Maryland.

It was held last year - July of 2013.


Thank You Teresa for going for us;
Thank You so much for writing the high lights - I look so forward to listening to them when they finall come out.

I emailed them last week to ask if they had finished the archives and they were nice enough to write back and tell me they were still working on them.

Meanwhile: I in frustration of waiting have found another conference put out by -- our federal government -- I think?

Here is Ted Dinan's u tube on Microbiome; Brain and Behavior

This gets you to a whole bunch of archived speakers telling of their work -- many are telling how they are finding these microbes - through mRNA and the proteins these microbes produce.

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