Autism and the Environment 101: Online Course 16

What is the Link Between the Digestive, Immune and Nervous Systems and ASD?

Immune System
Research suggests that problems with the immune system may be one of the causes or consequences of ASD.

  • Psychological stressors, exposure to chemical triggers and infectious agents may work together to lead to problems with the immune system. Children at risk of ASD may be particularly susceptible to chemical/environmental triggers of improper immune responses.

Digestive System
Autism may also involve alterations in the beneficial bacteria that inhabit the digestive tract, leading to digestive disorders, such as chronic diarrhea and constipation.

  • Diet is an environmental influence, and poor diet can create shortages of the building blocks the body and brain need to function optimally.
  • Environmental factors such as antibiotics or pesticides may be some of the agents that can alter beneficial gut bacteria.
  • Some people with autism experience worsened symptoms when they eat certain foods, such as milk, wheat products, or various other foods, depending on the individual.
  • Environmental factors can affect the health and integrity of the barrier between the gut and blood that affects what gets into the bloodstream.

More Than the Nervous System
It is important to assess and treat symptoms in the digestive and immune systems for best patient outcomes, for autism is a whole body syndrome and affects more than the nervous system. Any part of the body that has health problems can affect the well-being and behavior of the whole person.

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