Research into probiotics and their many potential benefits has shown a potenital link between probiotics in the first 6 months to a reduced incidence of ADHD and Aspergers. Another study has shown the potential for probiotics taken during pregnancy to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia and premature birth.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics and gut health are terms that go hand-in-hand. They work by helping to ensure our intestines are populated with healthy flora. This leads to better bowel function and a better supported immune system.
Probiotics are becoming an increasingly popular supplement for children and adults alike. They are said to reduce gastro-intestinal complaints and there are studies showing promising results for a variety of other health conditions.
Probiotics and ADHD, Asperger’s
One such study showed an interesting correlation between babies who were given a probiotic supplement in the first 6 months of life and those that were not. The study was initially looking for the effect of probiotic supplements in babies on certain skin conditions. Researchers examined gut bacteria levels in the participating children at regular intervals over the first two years of life and then again when the children were 13 years old. Various measurements were examined but another difference between the test groups stood out.
The control group consisted of children who had not been given probiotic supplements. Of the children in this group, 17.1% met the diagnostic criteria for either ADHD or Asperger’s Syndrome. There were no children in the probiotic group who were diagnosed with either condition. Certain bacteria levels were lower in effected children in the first 6 months of life than in those later diagnosed with ADHD or Asperger’s Syndrome.
A Closer Look
While this result is very interesting, it is not yet conclusive evidence from probiotics as a preventative measure. To understand why, we have to look at the details of the study.
Initially, 159 children were enrolled in the study. For various reasons, many them didn’t complete the study. In the end, there were 75 children studied. 35 received the placebo and 40 were given the probiotic supplement. This is a relatively small number of participants.
Breakdown Between ADHD and Asperger’s
17.1% of the placebo group were diagnosed as having either ADHD or Asperger’s Syndrome. Three children live with ADHD, one with Asperger’s and two of the children have both ADHD and Asperger’s.
The study took place in Finland, where autism spectrum diagnoses are thought to apply to approximately 1% of the population. ADHD figures are more difficult to locate for Finland, where the condition is rarely treated with medication when compared to countries like America and Australia. ADHD is thought to effect around 11% of American and Australian children.
With only 75 participants, it’s difficult to tell if this result is an accurate reflection of the population. There are other known factors in such conditions, like genetics and specific environmental factors, that may also play a part. These factors were not captured in the study.
Males are more likely to have a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and the same goes for ADHD. It’s pertinent to note that all the children with either or both conditions in the study were boys.
Is it all in the gut?
Some believe that conditions like ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as other Autism Spectrum Disorders, relate to gut health. On the surface, a study showing a higher incidence of ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome in children who didn’t receive probiotic supplements compared to those that did might seem to support that.
However, the study says, “no single constant microbiota composition or their difference could be distinctive in children with or without neuropsychiatric disorders.”
So, while the probiotics may be beneficial in preventing ADHD and Asperger’s, it’s not due to gut flora like we might have believed!
So, are probiotics necessary for babies?
In short, not really, based on what we know so far. The evidence is limited and mixed for probiotic use in bubs, however, it has also been shown to be well-tolerated and safe. The research in this area will undoubtedly continue and guidelines will change as we learn more.