Gut-related challenges in children with developmental disabilities (DD)

  • Gut-related challenges in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD)
    Research has shown the promise of using probiotics as peace makers of a distressed gut in children with ASD. Children with ASD often possess one or more of the following problems - gut inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, disrupted gut microbial composition. Clinical trials have shown alleviation of some of these symptoms through the consumption of probiotics. Though definitive connection between probiotics and ASD management is missing, there is sufficient preliminary evidence of an improvement in behavioral responses seen in these children, due to probiotic intervention1.

    Gut-related challenges in children with Down's syndrome
    In children with Down’s syndrome, a common cause for gastrointestinal distress is inherent structural malformations of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (such as, in the esophagus, anus, small intestine or colon). Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where the body reacts against the ‘wheat protein’ gluten, is also observed in some children with Down’s syndrome, which can further enhance GI distress2. These structural malformations cannot be reversed, but parents and nutritionists have reported benefits of probiotics towards the management of some disruptive symptoms in the GI tract of children with Down’s.

    Other common challenges
    In addition to structural gut problems in children with DD, another common cause for GI disruption is due to dietary factors. Consumption of less fluid accompanied by a diet that is low in fiber can exaggerate gut-related challenges further. Low mobility due to physical disabilities can also impact the movement of the child’s bowels. In some cases, medications being administered for gut-unrelated issues may also alter the gut physiology. These are just some of the examples of gut-related problems that are slowly emerging. In all these circumstances, intervention through probiotics can help restore some balance and ease the distress faced by the child and his/her gut3.

    Symptoms that spell the need for probiotics
    We have now understood the multi factorial reasons for a distressed gut in children with DD. Here are a few specific (and common) symptoms to watch out for, that signals the need for probiotic supplementation.

    • Chronic constipation
    • Chronic diarrhea
    • Delay in bowel transit time
    • Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS)

    • Intestinal infections caused by antibiotics (yeast/Candida, C. difficile)
    • Rotavirus incidence
    • Digestive tract inflammation (gastritis, duodenitis, colitis, H.Pylori)
    • Systemic (total body) inflammation
    • Recurring urinary tract infections (UTI)

    • Eczema
    • Allergies
    • Asthma

    • Anxiety
    • Stress
    • Recurrent cold  or other infections in the body (for e.g. ear)
    • Hyperactivity

    Scientific references, for futher reading

    1. Navarro et al, 2016. Can probiotics benefit children with autism spectrum disorders? World J Gastroenterol.  22(46): 10093-10102, Dec 14 (2016)
    3. Elawad MA and Sullivan PB, Management of constipation in children with disabilities, Dev Med Child Neurol. Dec;43(12):829-32 (2001)

    To learn more about dietary changes that can help manage these nutritional concerns, please also refer to our nutrition booklet for ideas.

    DISCLAIMER: Please note that this guide is for information purposes only. Please consult a qualified health practitioner for safe management.

    Understand how Probiotics can be beneficial for the management of gut-related challenges in children.

    Autism Spectrum Disorder
    Down Syndrome
    Alternate Therapies

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