Tuesday 29 January 2019

"a probiotic (Bifidobacterium infantis) in combination with a bovine colostrum product (BCP)" for autism?

The study findings reported by Megan Sanctuary and colleagues [1] caught my eye recently, and their aim to "assess tolerability of a probiotic (Bifidobacterium infantis) in combination with a bovine colostrum product (BCP) as a source of prebiotic oligosaccharides and to evaluate GI [gastrointestinal], microbiome and immune factors in children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and GI co-morbidities."

I appreciate that such a study is probably not going to be everyone's cup of tea given, for example, the rather *interesting* history of colostrum and autism (including the words 'transfer factor' [2]). The Sanctuary study however, should be taken on its own merit regarding "concurrent supplementation with both the probiotic B. infantis and bovine colostrum product (BCP) as a source of immune factors and prebiotic glycans could alter the microbiota to a more beneficial composition in order to improve gut health in children with ASD and GI symptoms." The rationale behind such work is that (a) what goes on the in the deepest, darkest recesses of the GI tract in a microbial sense could impact on the functional gut symptoms, and (b) said functional gut symptoms seem to be 'over-represented' in relation to autism (see here) and *could* in some cases, be linked to behavioural presentation (see here). Ergo, try and impact on functional gut symptoms and one *might* be able to impact on behaviour...

Sanctuary et al report preliminary findings designed to "assess tolerability" and "to evaluate GI, microbiome and immune factors in children with ASD and GI co-morbidities." This work represented a first step towards a bigger research trial to ascertain whether such a supplemental combination *might* be useful for some people on the autism spectrum in a 'clinically relevant' sense. Despite being a pilot study, researchers did conduct what is considered a gold-standard study insofar as it being a "double-blind, crossover, randomized clinical trial (RCT)." The study protocol was also research registered (see here), so quite a few methodological boxes were ticked.

Given that this study was carried out at the MIND Institute, an institution that has quite a lot of experience in all-manner of different autism research areas (see here and see here), researchers were pretty precise when it came to diagnosing autism/ASD and ascertaining the presence or not of GI symptoms in their small cohort (N=11). The authors also provide quite a bit of information about the supplements used including "the bovine colostrum product (Imucon)" and details of its safety: "The product was tested and found to be negative for Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Listeria, coagulase positive Staphylococcus and antibiotic residue." Insofar as dosages, we are told that: "The colostrum powder dose administered in this study was 0.15 g/lb body weight per day" and "The probiotic dose administered in this study was 20 billion CFU [colony forming unitsper day." A couple of supplemental combinations were examined during the study including BCP on its own and BCP+probiotic.

Results: there were quite a few different types of results reported on for 8 of the original 11 participants. Importantly: "Bovine colostrum product appears to be well-tolerated in these children [diagnosed with autism] as its own treatment as well as when combined with the probiotic B. infantis." 'Well-tolerated' means that there were "no participants needing to withdraw due to adverse events" despite a small number of reports of things like gassiness. A couple of kids were also reported to find the taste of the products not too great.

Also: "Some participants on both treatments saw a reduction in the frequency of certain GI symptoms, as well as reduced occurrence of particular aberrant behaviors." Being really careful here because of the small participant number included for study for example, researchers reported that "87.5% (7/8) of participants exhibited some improvement in GI symptoms while on the BCP only arm and 100% (8/8) of participants exhibited some improvement in GI symptoms while on the combination treatment arm." The sorts of GI effects mentioned included reductions in "pain with stooling, frequency of diarrhea, and consistency." Researchers also reported that appetite seemed to be improved for some kids too, particularly the consumption of fruit and meat.

A few other changes were noted in the study, but on the basis of the small participant size and the aims of the study I'm gonna leave them for now. As the authors mention: "the lack of a clear control group receiving a placebo" means that this was a "cross-over study where each participant was his own control" and therefore one needs to be cautious for now. What is needed next is a larger trial and more focus on the behavioural presentation side of autism...


[1] Sanctuary MR. et al. (2019) Pilot study of probiotic/colostrum supplementation on gut function in children with autism and gastrointestinal symptoms. PLoS ONE 14(1): e0210064.

[2] Fudenberg HH. Dialysable lymphocyte extract (DLyE) in infantile onset autism: a pilot study. Biotherapy. 1996;9(1-3):143-7.


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