Summary: According to a new study, gastrointestinal issues in children with autism could be a result of an increased reaction to stress.
Source: University of Missouri-Columbia.
Researchers study increased stress hormone responses, gastrointestinal symptoms.
One in 45 American children lives with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of these children also have significant gastrointestinal issues, but the cause of these symptoms is unknown. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine suggest that the gastrointestinal issues in these individuals with autism may be related to an increased reaction to stress. It’s a finding the researchers hope could lead to better treatment options for these patients.
“We know that it is common for individuals with autism to have a more intense reaction to stress, and some of these patients seem to experience frequent constipation, abdominal pain or other gastrointestinal issues,” said David Beversdorf, M.D., associate professor in the departments of radiology, neurology and psychological sciences at MU and the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. “To better understand why, we looked for a relationship between gastrointestinal symptoms and the immune markers responsible for stress response. We found a relationship between increased cortisol response to stress and these symptoms.”
Cortisol is a hormone released by the body in times of stress, and one of its functions is to prevent the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. These inflammatory substances — known as cytokines — have been associated with autism, gastrointestinal issues and stress. The researchers studied 120 individuals with autism who were treated at MU and Vanderbilt University. The individuals’ parents completed a questionnaire to assess their children’s gastrointestinal symptoms, resulting in 51 patients with symptoms and 69 without gastrointestinal symptoms.
To elicit a stress response, individuals took a 30-second stress test. Cortisol samples were gathered through participants’ saliva before and after the test. The researchers found that the individuals with gastrointestinal symptoms had greater cortisol in response to the stress than the participants without gastrointestinal symptoms.
“When treating a patient with autism who has constipation and other lower gastrointestinal issues, physicians may give them a laxative to address these issues,” Beversdorf said. “Our findings suggest there may be a subset of patients for which there may be other contributing factors. More research is needed, but anxiety and stress reactivity may be an important factor when treating these patients.”
Funding: Research reported in this publication was supported by Autism Treatment Network and the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health by the Health Resources Services Administration (UA3MC11054). The researchers have no conflicts of interest to declare related to this study.
Source: Leslie Orr – University of Missouri-Columbia
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Associations between Cytokines, Endocrine Stress Response, and Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Autism Spectrum Disorder” by Bradley J. Ferguson, Sarah Marler, Lily L. Altstein, Evon Batey Lee, Micah O. Mazurek, Aaron McLaughlin, Eric A. Macklin, Erin McDonnell, Daniel J. Davis, Anthony M. Belenchia, Catherine H. Gillespie, Catherine A. Peterson, Margaret L. Bauman, Kara Gross Margolis, Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, and David Q. Beversdorf in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Published online November 2016 doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2016.05.009
[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]University of Missouri-Columbia “Increased Reaction to Stress Linked to Gastrointestinal Issues in Autistic Children.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 40 January 2017.
<https://neurosciencenews.com/autism-stress-gi-5856/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]University of Missouri-Columbia (2017, January 40). Increased Reaction to Stress Linked to Gastrointestinal Issues in Autistic Children. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved January 40, 2017 from https://neurosciencenews.com/autism-stress-gi-5856/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]University of Missouri-Columbia “Increased Reaction to Stress Linked to Gastrointestinal Issues in Autistic Children.” https://neurosciencenews.com/autism-stress-gi-5856/ (accessed January 40, 2017).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
Associations between Cytokines, Endocrine Stress Response, and Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Autism Spectrum Disorder
Many children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have significant gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, but the etiology is currently unknown. Some individuals with ASD show altered reactivity to stress and altered immune markers relative to typically-developing individuals, particularly stress-responsive cytokines including tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and interleukin 6 (IL-6). Acute and chronic stress is associated with the onset and exacerbation of GI symptoms in those without ASD. The present study examined whether GI symptoms in ASD were associated with increases in cortisol, a stress-associated endocrine marker, and TNF-α and IL-6 in response to stress. As hypothesized, a greater amount of lower GI tract symptoms were significantly associated with post-stress cortisol concentration. The relationship between cortisol response to stress and GI functioning was greater for children who had a history of regressive autism. Exploratory analyses revealed significant correlations between cortisol response, intelligence, and inappropriate speech. In contrast, symptoms of the lower GI tract were not associated with levels of TNF-α or IL-6. Significant correlations were found, however, between TNF-α and IL-6 and irritability, socialization, and intelligence. These findings suggest that individuals with ASD and symptoms of the lower GI tract may have an increased response to stress, but this effect is not associated with concomitant changes in TNF-α and IL-6. The relationship between cortisol stress response and lower GI tract symptoms in children with regressive autism, as well as the relationships between cortisol, IL-6, and intelligence in ASD, warrant further investigation.
“Associations between Cytokines, Endocrine Stress Response, and Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Autism Spectrum Disorder” by Bradley J. Ferguson, Sarah Marler, Lily L. Altstein, Evon Batey Lee, Micah O. Mazurek, Aaron McLaughlin, Eric A. Macklin, Erin McDonnell, Daniel J. Davis, Anthony M. Belenchia, Catherine H. Gillespie, Catherine A. Peterson, Margaret L. Bauman, Kara Gross Margolis, Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, and David Q. Beversdorf in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Published online November 2016 doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2016.05.009