Q: I read about an autistic child who improved after taking antibiotics for strep throat. I thought people with autism needed more — not fewer — gut bacteria, and that antibiotics kill them off. What’s the real story here?
Alice J., Knoxville, Tennessee
A: The short answer is that we’re just beginning to understand the relationship of the gut biome (the trillions of bacteria in your digestive system) to complex conditions such as autism. We know that good health, a strong immune system and steady blood sugar levels depend on a balance of many kinds of gut bacteria — some that we call good; others that, if unchecked, we call bad. If this child’s symptoms of autism were improved by taking an antibiotic, it MIGHT be that killing off some of the bacteria in his gut (a side effect of taking the antibiotic to KO strep) restored a healthy balance.
The case you’re referring to is similar to a case study done in 1999 with younger adults who had symptoms of autism alongside intestinal problems. When their intestinal infection was treated with antibiotics (vancomycin) there was a temporary reversal in their autistic symptoms.
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In this recent case, we don’t yet know if the boy’s symptoms will return or not. But his father, John Rodakis, is a medical venture capitalist with a background in molecular biology and an MBA from Dr. Oz’s alma mater, Harvard. He’s started a nonprofit, N of One: Autism Research Foundation. You can go to its website at nofone.org for more info.
This foundation’s research focuses on individual treatments for individual patients.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is chief wellness officer and chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.