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Digestive Enzymes: Could this be the Missing Link?

There is a clear link between gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), with some studies concluding that as many as 63 percent of children with ASD experience some form of GI trouble, such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating and gas. If you are a parent or caregiver to someone with ASD, you probably know all too well how closely the two are connected.

In one study, children with severe GI distress underwent endoscopies to examine the cause. Researchers made a very important discovery: nearly half of these children were deficient in one or more critical digestive enzymes, including maltase and lactase. The enzyme deficient children all experienced loose stools and/or excessive gas.

Digestive enzymes are essential to a properly functioning GI system, and as noted in the study mentioned above, enzyme deficiency can lead to GI symptoms.

In addition to the discomfort of the symptoms themselves, GI problems can make the severity of autism worse in other ways, by causing frustration, lowering concentration, and increasing behavior problems such as self-abuse and aggression. These problems can also make toilet training more difficult and frustrating.

Gut flora, including digestive enzymes, can be thrown out of balance by antibiotic usage, something that is more common in children with autism. While antibiotics kill harmful bacteria, they also destroy nearly all of the beneficial bacteria in the gut, contributing to GI symptoms such as constipation. This is why doctors and health specialists recommend supplementing with probiotics when taking antibiotics, to help replenish the good bacteria and enzymes that are killed off by antibiotic usage.

When specific methods were used to treat gut flora imbalances, children with late-onset autism experienced significant improvement in behavior, but only as long as they continued to receive treatment. This is compelling evidence that the link between gut health and ASD is stronger than previously believed, and that by treating the gut, we can see improvements in ASD symptoms.

If you are caring for someone with ASD who continues to have digestive problems, digestive enzymes may be the missing link that can not only help restore gut flora and improve digestion, but also help reduce some of the symptoms of autism.


Adams, James B. Gastrointestinal flora and gastrointestinal status in children with autism – comparisons to typical children and correlation with autism severity. BMC Gastroenterology, 2011.