05 Jan

Autism and Digestion


Leslie Toldo
UNDATED (WJRT) — (01/04/11) — The mystery of autism may lie somewhere in a child’s stomach.

HealthFirst reporter Leslie Toldo explains why some researchers think so.

It is not without controversy, but a group of researchers believe they have cracked at least part of the autism code.

Zoe Langford lives in the background. She’s been such a loner for so long, mom and dad were worried. Then she was diagnosed with autism. “She’s very bright, very sweet. The problem is with communication,” said her father, Kevin Langford.

She’s enrolled in a controversial clinical trial at the University of Texas where kids are fed an enzyme to help aide in protein digestion.

“There are many ways we can treat children with autism, but this one is a different approach,” explained Deborah A. Pearson, Ph.D.

Pearson says autistic kids simply don’t accept protein well. Studies show 70 percent have gastro-intestinal problems. Better protein digestion may create amino acids, which could boost brain function. “They’ll be able to learn better, they’ll be able to, you know, behave better.”

Zoe’s father sees a change. “I notice a lot more talking, a lot more communicating. I just think she’s come out of her shell.”

Some experts are skeptical of the treatment, but the FDA approved the final phase of the trial looking to see if the enzyme improves communicative problems, social deficits and digestive problems. There are 12 trial sites testing 170 kids between 3-8 years old.

“If it can help us and our child, just imagine what it could do for those extremely autistic children,” Zoe’s mother, Meredith Langford, said.

For Zoe, it’s a new way of looking at the world. >

Critics say protein digestion alone can’t possibly correct the core complications of autistic behavior.

Only two drugs are currently approved for autism treatment, and both are antipsychotic medications.

The study is not taking place in Michigan. Indiana and Ohio are the closest states.

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