Eating Yogurt, Other Foods With Good Bacteria May Help Avoid Autism

Women who consume yogurt, sauerkraut and other fermented foods during pregnancy are less likely to have kids with an autism-like disorder. Researchers have found that foods containing good bacteria support the baby’s neurodevelopment. 

A new study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, adds to the growing evidence of the positive effects of beneficial bacteria in the brain and central nervous system. This time, researchers focused on how the immune-modulating microbes help prevent inflammation.

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Inflammation has long been linked to autism. Previous research showed that stress during pregnancy can cause systemic inflammation in both the mother and fetus, which then leads to the developmental disorder.  

In the latest study, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder said the reduced levels of inflammation through good bacteria exposure appeared helping in the development of the fetus. It lowers the risk of autism after birth. 

The findings come from the analysis of the effects of a friendly bacterium known as Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae). Earlier studies showed that it has long lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain. 

For the study, the researchers exposed rats to mild stressors and provided them a drug called terbutaline, which women commonly take to delay preterm labor. Half of the animal subjects also received a series of injections of M. vaccae, while a control group did not get any treatments during pregnancy.

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At two and four months after birth, researchers assessed social interaction and repetitive behaviors of the pups. Results showed that the babies of mothers exposed to M. vaccae did not develop autism-like behaviors unlike the control group. 

“Immunization with M. vaccae appears to provide some protection against the negative effects of environmental stressors during development, specifically against Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)-like behavior,” Zachariah Smith, first study author and a post-doctoral researcher, said in a statement. 

The researchers also found that babies are more likely to benefit from good bacteria if their mothers regularly consume fermented foods during the third trimester of pregnancy. 

The study “suggests that you could develop microbial interventions that lower the risk of neurodevelopmental syndromes like autism,” Christopher Lowry, study co-author and an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology, said in a statement.

Lowry hopes that their findings would guide the development of a specially-formulated probiotic or inoculation for pregnant women to support the healthy brain development of their child. But getting good bacteria from common fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut may offer the same benefits during pregnancy. 

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