Gastrointestinal issues found in children with autism may be related to an increased reaction to stress, a finding that can lead to better treatment for the disorder, researchers say. Autism is a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability of individuals to communicate and interact.
“We know that it is common for individuals with autism to have a more intense reaction to stress and some of these patients seem to experience frequent constipation, abdominal pain or other gastrointestinal issues,” said David Beversdorf, Associate Professor at University of Missouri in the US. “…anxiety and stress reactivity may be an important factor when treating these patients,” Beversdorf added. The study found a relationship between increased cortisol response to stress and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Cortisol is a hormone released by the body in times of stress and one of its functions is to prevent the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation, known as cytokines — associated with autism, gastrointestinal issues and stress, the researchers stated. For the study, the team studied 120 individuals with autism — 51 patients with gastrointestinal symptoms and 69 without gastrointestinal symptoms.
Testing their cortisol samples, the researchers found that the individuals with gastrointestinal symptoms had greater cortisol in response to the stress than the participants without the symptoms. However, there may be a subset of patients for which there may be other contributing factors, the researchers suggested, adding that more research is needed. The study was published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
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