Brain-Gut Connection and Autism


I don’t know about you, but if I eat too closely to the time when I go to sleep, I have very vivid nightmares. Before I give a presentation and share my thoughts with others, my stomach does somersaults and the butterflies come out. Before a job interview? Forget it, my stomach is incredibly hard to deal with. Doctors are prescribing anti depressants for stomach and gastrointestinal issues. Clearly the mind and the stomach have some sort of connection, but what is it? Why does it exist? And what does this mean for Autism?

When we’re not much more than an expected baby, and our different body systems are forming, our stomachs and our brains develop from the same clump of tissue. One section becomes the central nervous system, and the other becomes the enteric nervous system that controls the gastrointestinal system. It can be thought of a similar instance as when twins are born, and as they grow older, some report being affected  by situations that the other is going through.

The brain and stomach are connected by the vagus nerve. So, not only is there a “twin-like” relation, there is an actual physical connection between the brain and the gut. It is also important to note that one half of all of our nerve cells are located in the gut.

The Gut: The Other Brain:

The stomach itself has it’s own brain, also known as the enteric system, which is located in the lining of the esophogus, intestine, and colon. Containing neurons and neurotransmitters, the enteric system is often firing messages to support cells.  No wonder people trust their guts! It has it’s own brain afterall.

Many dieticians often recommend people eat slowly so that the stomach has a chance to tell the brain that it’s full. Otherwise, you run the risk of over stuffing your stomach and causing indigestion.

Did you know that both the brain and the stomach have a sleeping cycle? It’s true, as our brain goes through the 90 minute cycles of Rapid Eye Movement, etc., the gut also goes through cycles of muscle contractions. The REM cycle of sleep is also likely affected by contractions of the stomach muscles, since these two ‘brains’ are connected.

Many people who are diagnosed with depression are also given the diagnosis as not producing serontonin, or “happy juice” in the brain. A little known fact is that the stomach also produces serotonin. In fact, the stomach produces more serotonin than any other part of the body.

What does the gut-brain connection have to do with Autism?

Though the gut is often an overlooked part of the body, it really does hold a lot of power. Since this is where digestion takes place, if the gut is not functioning properly, then our body cannot take the nutrients that it needs from the food we’re eating.  Even if your child’s diet is one of great nutrients and proper vitamins, if the gut isn’t extracting the nutrients, then the body isn’t getting what it needs.

On the same token, our bodies are designed to filter out toxins from the body and reject unknown infections. However, if the gut isn’t working, and not filtering out toxins, an toxic overload can occur. It is very important that the gut be in working condition.

Conditions such as Anxiety, ADHD, ADD, and Autism are believed to originate partly in the gut from poor gut flora.

The solution:

Every doctor may tell you to do something different. First thing’s first, a body detox is essential in order to get the body clean again. After that, your doctor can talk to you about different diets (many that we’ve spoken about here), that may assist in retraining and reclaiming the body’s health.

Could Nicotine Be Beneficial?

Could nicotine have positive effects?
Could nicotine have positive effects?

There are a number of methods available to the public to assist them in quitting smoking. From pills and gum to patches and electronic devices,  consumers definitely have a few choices when it comes to breaking the vicious chain smoking and addiction cycle.  The true demon that we’re fighting is nicotine – the addictive drug found in cigarettes. We often hear about the damaging effects of nicotine – but could it be that it also has it’s good points?

Nicotine has many effects on the body and psyche including inducing a sense of calm, hunger suppression, and raising alertness. In most cases, it has the ability to change one’s mood – for those who are agitated, consuming nicotine decreases the feeling of agitation.

Researchers have been looking into the benefits of nicotine and creating medications for decades. None of these medicines are on the market yet. The biggest reason for this is the reputation of nicotine. Chances are, if you hear that something has nicotine in it, you assume it to be very addictive and cancer-causing. There’s no knowing how the public and doctors would react to a nicotine medication release and how it would be received.

Several studies have been conducted surrounding the nicotine patch. The patch itself resembles a band-aid and it is applied to the body and allows nicotine to be absorbed through the skin and has proven beneficial in aiding people in quitting smoking. However, one study conducted in 2004 found that the nicotine patch improved cognitive function for patients suffering from schizophrenia. In 2003 a study was conducted focusing on the effectiveness of the patch in non-smoking patients diagnosed with depression. There was also a study with promising results that combined the nicotine patch and the the antipsychotic drug haloperidol (Haldol).

Other studies have focused on patients, both adults and adolescents who have been diagnosed with ADHD.  It has been said that 19% of people with ADD are smokers. This number is undoubtedly higher now. The reason? Nicotine has the ability to treat the symptoms of ADHD – especially improving the cognitive function and overall alertness.

Should you hand your child with ADHD, Autism, or other cognitive disabilities a cigarette and encourage them to light up? Of course not. It’s worth noting the investigations and studies occurring, and not to be completely blown away if a nicotine-based medication is released and prescribed to help with general symptoms of cognitive impairment disorders.