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Lactose intolerance and autism

Autism seems constantly to be in the news. This week is no exception following the publication of a paper suggestive that the prevalence of adults with autism is hovering around the 1% mark - similar to that suggested for children.

Whilst such work gathers quite a lot of media headline coverage, other pieces of research seem to quietly pass by with hardly a thought or mention. One such study is this titled: 'Intestinal disaccharidase activity in patients with autism: effect of age, gender and intestinal inflammation' published in Autism.

The paper by Tim Buie and colleagues from Harvard Medical School is an interesting one. Buie has some interest in autism given his Chairing role in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) position paper on gastrointestinal factors associated with autism last year.

The recent paper from his team makes for some pretty interesting reading, not least with the suggestion that 58% of children with autism under 5 years of age that they looked at presented with lactase deficiency - the enzyme used to break down the sugar in milk - leading to possible lactose intolerance.

The data for the over-5s does get much better where some 65% presented with similar problems.

Buie and his team note that such lactase deficiency may be a significant contributor to the abdominal pain and discomfort experienced by a proportion of children with autism.

There is some interest in the use of gluten- and casein-free diets being used as an intervention for some cases of autism. The precise reason why such diets may 'work' in ameliorating specific core and peripheral behaviours associated with autism is still unclear. The recent paper by Buie and colleagues perhaps suggest one possible reason why such diets may be effective, building on other published studies suggestive that the consumption of milk may be a primary correlate to the constipation encountered by some chldren with autism.

Buie also made an appearance on the recent 'Autism Now' series on PBS describing his work looking at gastrointestinal co-morbidity in autism. I would recommend a look.

All this comes on the day that Autism Speaks announced that it was to fund the acclaimed MIND Institute at UC Davis to the tune of several hundreds of thousands of dollars to begin looking more closely at the connection between GI problems and autism.

Watch this space.