Anxiety and Digestive Issues Show a Mutual Relationship in Autism


Research has shown gastrointestinal issues are associated with an increased stress response as well as aggression and irritability in some children with autism,” said Brad Ferguson, an assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology in the MU School of Medicine.


This likely happens because some kids with autism are unable to verbally communicate their gastrointestinal discomfort as well as how they feel in general, which can be extremely frustrating.

The goal of the new study is to find out what factors are associated with digestive problems in individuals with autism so we can design treatments to help these individuals feel better.

In the study, researchers analyzed health data from more than 620 patients with autism at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders under the age of 18 who experience gastrointestinal issues.

Then, they examined the relationship between gastrointestinal issues and internalized symptoms, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal.

These findings provide more evidence on the importance of the “gut-brain axis,” or connection between the brain and the digestive tract, in gastrointestinal disorders in individuals with autism.

What is Gut-brain axis?

Stress signals from the brain can alter the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine in the gut which control gastrointestinal motility, or the movement of stool through the intestines.

Stress also impacts the balance of bacteria living in the gut, called the microbiota, which can alter gastrointestinal functioning. The gut then sends signals back to the brain, and that can, in turn, lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal.

The cycle then repeats, so novel treatments addressing signals from both the brain and the gut may provide the most benefit for some kids with gastrointestinal disorders and autism.

Got a new idea for autism

An interdisciplinary team of specialists tried to solve this complex problem and develop treatments going forward. In a recent study, they identified specific RNA biomarkers linked with gastrointestinal issues in children with autism.

The relationships between microRNA that are related to anxiety behavior following prolonged stress as well as depression and gastrointestinal disturbance, provide some converging evidence with behavioral findings.

Now, researchers are working together to determine the effects of a stress-reducing medication on gastrointestinal issues in a clinical trial.

This biomarker-based approach to finding what markers in the body are common in those who respond favorably to certain treatments will help to develop a quick test that tells us which treatment is likely to work for the patient. This way, the right treatment can be provided to the right patient at the right time.

Source: Medindia

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