"I am different, not less."
- Dr. Temple Grandin
Millions of people experience behavioral and cognitive obstacles known as autism spectrum disorder, also known as ASD. One in 54 children in the US was diagnosed with an ASD in 2016 , and global prevalence increases each year.
Challenges of Autism
ASD spans a broad spectrum and can present many obstacles. While some with a disorder are unable to speak, others find it hard to stay silent. Many who are extremely intelligent may find social interaction to be challenging. From a young age, those with autism may struggle to express emotions or to respond in kind when shown love and care, often leading to strained relationships with family and friends.
ASD Clinical Study (2019)
Researchers at National Yang-Mind University (NYMU) in Taiwan used psychobiotic PS128 to conduct a double-blind, randomized control study, inviting 80 boys ages 7-15 with ASD to participate . The boys were randomly assigned to either a test group or a control group. For 28 days, those in the test group received two PS128 capsules daily, while participants in the placebo group were similarly given a placebo.
Parents of each boy were asked to evaluate their child’s emotions and behavior both before and after the study. A range of positive results were found, including the following outcome measures:
Opposition, defiance, and other autism-related behaviors were improved.
The SNAP-IV scale measures core symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. Changes in the scores of younger children (ages 7-12) taking PS128 daily for four weeks were compared with their placebo counterparts. Significantly lower (improved) scores were found in the PS128 group, suggesting that the psychobiotic helped alleviate their behavioral symptoms.
Improvements in social communication and interaction, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors were seen.
The SRS gauges social communication, awareness, and emotion, as well as autism mannerisms, such as limited interests and repetitious actions. Assessments at baseline and again after four weeks of treatment showed significant improvement for those children given PS128.
Anxiety levels were reduced.
A wide range of emotional and maladaptive behaviors are evaluated using the Child Behavior Checklist. Significantly decreased levels of anxiousness were shown by those who took PS128 during the trial.
Probiotics and Autism
Our gut, which contains around 100 million neurons, is often called our “second brain,” and these enteric nerve cells can function independently of our central nervous system (CNS). These two neural networks frequently communicate with and influence each other, and when neurological development is impaired, GI health can suffer. For example, children with an ASD have higher rates of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain, than do children of typical neurological development.
This interaction between our two “brains” has been found to not only take place directly via neural transmission but also through endocrine, immune, and metabolic pathways.
Martha Herbert, a leading autism researcher at Harvard Medical School, used MRI scans to examine the neural anatomy of children with autism. She found their brains were full of activated immune cells and inflammatory molecules, contributing to the chronic neuroinflammation often seen in those with ASD. In a paper reporting her findings, she proposed that autism disorders are not primarily caused by brain abnormalities but actually influenced by multiple body systems, including the digest and immune systems .
Gut Microbiota and Autism
Gut-brain axis research has led to understanding of a direct, reciprocal influence that exists between GI tract microbiota and the CNS, including nervous system disorders such as autism, Parkinson’s, depression, and anxiety.
Regarding autism specifically, the gut microflora of individuals with an ASD is unique when compared to those without. Autism patients have a higher proportion of Firmicutes bacteria and relatively fewer Bacteroides. This has led to scientists asking whether gut microbe modification could lead to CNS improvements and neurological disorder treatments .
Treating Autism Via the Microbiome
Researcher Elaine Hsiao showed how this microbiome-gut-brain connection can influence ASD-like symptoms in mice . Knowing that immune cells and inflammatory cytokines in the brain contribute to autism symptoms , Hsiao’s team mimicked an infection to activate the immune systems of pregnant mice. Soon after, the newborn pups exhibited both autism-like behaviors (anxiety, repetitive behaviors, and impaired social interaction) and GI tract symptoms (atypical, imbalanced gut microbes and intestinal permeability.)
Notably, after the pups were treated with Bacteroides from a human gut, their intestinal walls became more stable and blood data showed a decrease in a substance (4EPS) that induced their anxiety-like symptoms. Post-treatment, not only were the pups’ gut microbiomes more like those of a healthy mouse, but their symptoms of anxiety, repetitive behavior, and social impairment were also attenuated.
PS128 Can Help
Probiotics such as PS128 can similarly improve symptoms of ASD by enhancing the gut microbiome and regulating neural, endocrine, immune, and metabolic pathways. The psychobiotic may benefit those with ASD through its unique ability to modulate levels of dopamine and serotonin, and it has proven effective at lessening autism-like symptoms in mice .
Following the results of the NYMU study described above, additional experiments at Massachusetts General Hospital (USA) and Mackay Memorial Hospital (Taiwan) are also testing PS128’s effects on patients with autism.
 Liu, Y.-W.; Liong, M.T.; Chung, Y.-C.E.; Huang, H.-Y.; Peng, W.-S.; Cheng, Y.-F.; Lin, Y.-S.; Wu, Y.-Y.; Tsai, Y.-C. (2019.) Effects of Lactobacillus plantarum PS128 on Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Taiwan: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 11, 820.
 Fattorusso, A., Di Genova, L., Dell'Isola, G. B., Mencaroni, E., & Esposito, S. (2019). Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Gut Microbiota. Nutrients, 11(3), 521.
 Hsiao, E. Y., McBride, S. W., Hsien, S., Sharon, G., Hyde, E. R., McCue, T., … Mazmanian, S. K. (2013). Microbiota Modulate Behavioral and Physiological Abnormalities Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Cell, 155(7), 1451–1463.
 Herbert M. R. (2005). Autism: A brain disorder or a disorder that affects the brain? Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 2(6) ,354-79.
 Liu, W. H., Chuang, H. L., Huang, Y. T., Wu, C. C., Chou, G. T., Wang, S., & Tsai, Y. C. (2016). Alteration of behavior and monoamine levels attributable to Lactobacillus plantarum PS128 in germ-free mice. Behavioural brain research, 298(Pt B), 202–209.
 Liu, Y. W., Liu, W. H., Wu, C. C., Juan, Y. C., Wu, Y. C., Tsai, H. P., Wang, S., & Tsai, Y. C. (2016). Psychotropic effects of Lactobacillus plantarum PS128 in early life-stressed and naïve adult mice. Brain research, 1631, 1–12.