Episode 34: Is The Microbiome Key In Healing Autism?
In 2018, the CDC determined that 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Devastatingly, the numbers continue to climb each year, but research is emerging that points to the microbiome as a place for potential answers and even a cure.
News of how anti-inflammatory diets and gut health can impact autism symptoms has been out for awhile, but we’re now starting to learn in much more detail how the balance of the microbiome plays a role.
On this episode, Andrea talks with Dr. Theresa Lyons, an international autism educator, a Yale-trained scientist and autism parent. Dr. Lyons is the premiere voice of scientific reason in the world of autism and has become known as “The Professor of Healing Autism.”
They discuss early warning signs and common gut symptoms associated with autism diagnosis, preventative measures parents can take, and how she speaks about the capacity for healing.
On this show, you’ll learn:
- The scientific perspective of what the spectrum really is (2:01)
- How many people may actually be on the spectrum (6:00)
- Autism characteristics (6:58)
- Common gut symptoms associated autism (8:04)
- Studies on GI issues and how they may impact autism (11:30)
- Dr. Lyons’ journey with her daughter and autism (14:41)
- Early diagnosis and late diagnosis (20:42)
- The Autism Healing Matrix (21:19)
- Questions to ask your doctor (25:54)
- Celebrating the successes (30:01)
- Strains of bacteria that are beneficial for a person with autism (32:23)
- Can a round of antibiotics exacerbate symptoms? (34:16)
- Levels of healing (37:19)
- One thing that Dr. Lyons is most excited about (43:19)
Andrea Wien: Welcome to the Microbiome Report powered by BIOHM Health. I'm your host, Andrea Wien, and today we're talking about the impact of the microbiome as it relates to autism spectrum disorder. News of how anti-inflammatory diets and gut health impact autism symptoms has been out for a while. But we're just now starting to learn in much more detail about how the balance of the microbiome plays a role. Our resident researcher Dr. Ghannoum actually has some very exciting findings coming out from some new research that he has been conducting. So we will certainly share that as soon as we are able to.
But today I am speaking with Dr. Theresa Lyons. She is an international autism educator, a Yale trained scientist and an autism parent. Dr. Lyons is the premier voice of scientific reason in the world of autism and has become known as the professor of healing autism. She works with hospital systems, private and non government organizations and parents to drastically diminish the knowledge gap between the cutting edge science of healing autism and the current patient care. This is helping to decrease medical expenses, decrease burdens on governmental programs, including education, and helping the child flourish, which is the most important thing. Her new book on functional medicine and autism will be released on January 21st of this year.
On this episode, we're discussing the early warning signs and gut symptoms associated with autism diagnoses. She's also talking about preventative measures parents can take and how she speaks to parents about healing autism in their children. In 2018, the CDC determined that one in 59 children is now diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, devastatingly the numbers continue to climb each year. So this episode couldn't come at a better time. Dr. Lyons thank you so much for coming on the show.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: It's a pleasure to be here.
Andrea Wien: So autism is a spectrum, people have heard of that before. But can you tell us the scientific perspective of what the spectrum really is?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Sure. So there's some interesting science that's just coming out, that really changes the way people think of the spectrum. So you might have heard of low functioning and high functioning. This is all based upon behaviors and how independent someone can be. So someone who's classified as high functioning might be going to a mainstream school, might be able to dress and feed themselves, whereas someone who's considered lower functioning on the spectrum needs more intensive help. So they might be going to a specialized school, they might not be able to dress themselves or feed themselves. Daily living tasks like that are a lot more difficult, typically, for someone who's classified on the lower part of the autism spectrum. And it's just functioning, though.
So what's really interesting about the spectrum is that 9% of those with autism heal completely, regardless of where they are on the spectrum Scientifically, it's about 9% now, that has been published. Whereas the other really disturbing fact, is the life expectancy of those who retain that autism diagnosis in the US, it was found in 2017, in Published Research, it was found to be 36 years old. So the life expectancy of someone with autism is half that of the general population. So when people are thinking of a spectrum, yes, there's high functioning, there's low functioning, but the spectrum is really how health is impacted. And it varies greatly.
Another study, it was a Danish study, they looked at the cause of death for those on the spectrum, and they were able to look at low functioning versus high functioning. And they found regardless of where someone was on the spectrum, their life expectancy was reduced. So for those on the lower part of the functioning side, they were dying from things like epilepsy and a lot more of physical health related, whereas those on the higher functioning part of the spectrum, they were dying by suicide. So the spectrum, it's there, and it's not just behaviors. It really affects life expectancy as well universally.
Andrea Wien: That's really shocking. I hadn't heard that statistic about life expectancy being so much less than regular life expectancy. So I can imagine too, and we're going to talk obviously today about some of the factors that factor into an autism diagnosis and gut health being one of the big reasons that we're here talking about this today. So I can imagine we're learning so much now about the gut-brain axis and all these different pieces that when gut health is affected, it's contributing to the symptoms, I would imagine of autism. But it's also contributing to things like depression, which would factor right into that suicide that you're talking about.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Depression, anxiety, there's many things that are associated with that decrease in life expectancy in health, particularly gut health. Because gut health is related to just about everything. You can't necessarily be healthy and have an unhealthy gut, it's very difficult to do. So, so much is incorporated in overall health for someone with autism and health generally.
Andrea Wien: So I want to come back to that, but I want to take a quick minute to just talk about how many people we suspect might be on the spectrum. I feel like now that autism is out in the Zeitgeist, and people are really talking about it so much more than ever before, it's very common to hear, "Oh, that person is on the spectrum." Or, "I suspect that that person is on the spectrum." When maybe they might just be socially awkward, they might be a little introverted. How many people are we talking about when we talk about people with actual autism diagnoses?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: So worldwide, the percentage is about one to 2%. It's really important to actually get a proper diagnosis. So I know it can be tempting to sometimes say, "Oh, that person, they must have autism." But autism is really so much more than just social awkwardness. So getting a proper diagnosis is really important, because then you can take the necessary steps. So if someone is older, sometimes teenagers, young adults, they might want to pursue having a diagnosis just so that then they can really understand what is going on with them, and take whatever steps they feel is best for them.
Andrea Wien: So what are some of those early warning signs or maybe just characteristics of autism, aside from you said, it's not just that social awkwardness.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Right. Autism can reliably be seen at about 18 months, sometimes even sooner. So a diagnosis can come at 18 months, I have clients whose children have been diagnosed 18 months, sometimes 15 months. Typically, what you're looking for in the beginning, one of the very first signs is when the baby doesn't smile at you. And a lot of times, there's none of that cooing back and forth. So those are some of the really early signs. And then as the child develops, sometimes there is development in some areas, but not others. So it's a very asymmetric development. And it's just something for doctors to continue to monitor, and really start taking proactive steps. So you don't necessarily have to wait for that autism diagnosis to change diet, to start looking at gut health. Those are generally good practices to uphold for anyone's health.
Andrea Wien: Now are there common gut symptoms that we see that are associated with autism diagnosis?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Oh, goodness, yes. So GI problems are seen in about 90% of those with autism. So GI can be GI pain, discomfort, loading, constipation, diarrhea, some people have both, they'll have, fluctuations between diarrhea and being constipated. Those are typically the main ones that are seen. But when you have such GI discomfort, it then can translate into so many other issues in the life. So if you're constipated, and you're bloated, things are backing up in your system, so you're not feeling good. So then it's harder to learn. And it's hard to be social, whenever there's some discomfort going on, or food allergies. You eat some food and you get a headache. These are all things that make life a lot more difficult for someone with autism, because it just compounds everything.
And unfortunately, a few years ago, many people didn't understand all the different comorbidities that are with autism. So all these GI problems they're not necessarily, "Oh, that's just autism." And I'm sure lots of parents have heard that when they might be explaining, "Oh, my son is really constipated." And the doctor might say, "Oh, that's just autism. Here, take some Miralax and that's the best that you can do." And it's totally not. It's related to gut health. And when someone has an issue like constipation, it's really hard to flourish in life. So that's why having a holistic approach to making sure the body is performing optimally is so important for those with autism.
Andrea Wien: So are we thinking, I guess, is it a chicken or the egg situation? So do the GI issues maybe, I don't want to say cause autism, because we know obviously that it's not one factor that's giving someone an autism diagnosis. But did the GI issues come first and then the autism develops? Or is it the autism that then is causing the GI issues?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: It's hard to see which comes first. There's also sensory issues that come into play, a lot of times with those with autism. Sensory issues are related to GI issues. So there aren't any studies that say exactly, this will happen first, and then the autism will come. There's just a lot of these warning signs. So GI problems, definitely warning signs. Sensory issues, so sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, vision problems, these are all things that happen early on in the child's development, that are really important to pay attention to, if there's a concern about autism.
Andrea Wien: Okay. And our resident researcher, Dr. Ghannoum is actually running a clinical trial right now all about the microbiome and autism. And some of his preliminary findings he showed me the other day at his office have been really astounding just to look at the microbiome of the controls, and then the microbiome of patients with autism. And so we're definitely going to have him on to discuss that. And I think that he's starting to dig into this question more of GI issues and how they may impact autism symptoms, chicken or the egg as we were talking about. So it'll be interesting to see, as science continues to dig into this, what we uncover.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Definitely. And it's important for research like that to take place, so that the changes that parents are seeing can really be quantified in science. So there are many parents who are healing their children from autism. 9% is the number that heal from autism completely. So it's really great now to start putting systems in place and quantifying and looking at the microbiome of controls versus those with autism and seeing how different they are and seeing as a child heals, how does it change. And it's definitely exciting time in science. But as a parent, it's even more exciting because I'm a scientist, and a parent of a child who's healing from autism. So to be able to be involved in science, but know what it means for a parent to start having extraordinary family fun, oh, my goodness, it's just the best of science. It's the reason why most people become scientists, to be able to help others. And it's actually amazing how science is just helping so many parents and children live a better life. So the more research that's done, the more exciting it is.
Andrea Wien: Absolutely. We're going to switch gears and talk about healing in a minute. But I want to talk about prevention first. So I'm a new parent, I have a son, he's five months old, obviously thinking all the time about how to keep him healthy, how to make sure that he's thriving and growing and hitting those milestones. Are there preventative things that parents can do early on to help avoid an autism diagnosis?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Well, I don't know if it's necessary to avoid, but overall diet is really important. So when someone has autism, one of the most foundational steps someone can take is to change their diet. So really making sure your son doesn't eventually have a diet that consists of chicken fingers, and pizza and mac and cheese. That is definitely something you'd want to avoid for a variety reasons, not just autism, but for just overall nutrition. So incorporating things like fermented foods, probiotics, that's all great things that everyone can do. And it would be good... If I had to do things over again, I certainly would incorporate fermented foods much more in my daughter's diet. And in my diet, I've learned a lot through this journey. So really taking a look at food because food feeds the microbiome. So there's so much of the microbiome that can be influenced just with food. For your son, I would definitely look at diet and make sure it's as healthy and vegetable heavy as possible.
Andrea Wien: Okay. That's great advice. And as a holistic nutritionist, something that I'm already on point with. So hopefully we can avoid many of the issues. The children's menu is off limits at our house.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: I had a feeling, but just had to say that, yeah.
Andrea Wien: So let's talk about your journey with your daughter. When was she diagnosed? Tell us a little bit about her story.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Sure. So she was diagnosed officially when she was three and a half years old. There were some warning signs in the beginning, just with the not smiling. After a while she had words but she lost them. So there definitely were concerns and she was considered a late diagnosis. And the reason was, we were looking at if it could be anything else. So an autism diagnosis is purely based on behavior, on observations. So with the specialists that I was working with, we wanted to eliminate hearing issues and just about anything genetics. We looked at so much, just so that we could be confident that the autism diagnosis was the correct one.
So she was diagnosed, three and a half. Like I said, autism can be reliably diagnosed at 18 months. So we definitely got a late start in that sense. She didn't have any early intervention whatsoever, just because of when she was diagnosed. But for anyone who has a late diagnosis, that doesn't mean game over, not at all, so much can change. So if there are any late diagnosis's, there's no window of opportunity. That's something that a lot of parents are told how, if the autism isn't addressed when they're five years old or older, typically, people will say, "Oh, well, nothing can be done." And that's from a lot of old science.
So the IQ of a typically developing child levels off around five, six years old. There's been studies on those with autism, as they're healing, their IQs are changing. Their IQs are increasing. And it's past five years old. Some of them are even 10. So there's no window of opportunity that's closed. So for anyone who's listening to this, and their child's older, it doesn't mean that there's no hope. Not at all, my daughter was diagnosed on the later side.
So when she was diagnosed, then I didn't really know what to do. So I have a PhD in chemistry from Yale University, I did a lot of drug research, I worked for pharmaceutical industry in R&D. I also worked in more of the marketing side, so in strategy. And I just really leveraged those skills to first come up to speed as to what autism is, and then start building a great team of experts who could really help me answer these questions. What is autism? I hear parents are healing children. How are they doing this? what's important? And as a PhD chemist, I'm very curious, I'm also very organized. So I was able to really get a lot of answers that many people wouldn't get for like 30 years or so because it would take that long for that information to translate into mainstream. I still had academic credentials so I could just go into literature and read articles that for the public, it might cost $80 each article. So I really had that information, and the skills putting a team together. And that really changed so much.
Andrea Wien: Okay. I want to talk about, maybe we'll split healing into early and late diagnosis and talk about what we can do in that realm. But first, I want to just ask, a lot of times on this show, we talk about this bucket analogy. Specifically with things like autoimmune disease, or anything that tips, the scale from health into disease state. So we talk about things like everyone has a bucket, and you can put so much into that bucket before it overflows. We can have environmental toxins, we can have poor diet, we can have stress. Is it similar when we're talking about an autism diagnosis? Obviously, it's complex, and it can be triggered by a number of different things. Does that bucket analogy work?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: I think so. I certainly think so. The bucket might be different for each person. And that's where a lot of times autism has this reputation of being, oh, so complex it can't be understood. And oh, it's so individual that if you've seen one person with autism, you've seen one person with autism. There's certainly different manifestations and different issues with certain people with autism. So some have more of a gut issue, some have more of a toxicity issue, some have more of mitochondrial issue. But the buckets that are important, overall are the same. It just depends on which bucket would be more important for that particular with autism. So I would say the bucket analogy certainly holds true. Just percentage wise, the weight of the components of each bucket would differ for each person with autism.
Andrea Wien: Absolutely. That makes sense. Yeah, during my training, I did a whole course on detoxification and the body's ability to detox. And I might be getting this statistic wrong, but something like 1000 times is the variation in people's ability to detox from different chemicals or compounds that they put into their body or are exposed to. So even just looking at that we can say, "Okay, someone's bucket," maybe they can't handle the tap water. And then someone else could be smoking cigarettes and living next to a chemical plant, and they live to 100 with perfect health. So we all have this bio individuality that's so different. So I'm glad you brought up that point. Okay, let's talk about healing. And like I said, maybe let's split this into early diagnosis and late diagnosis, unless perhaps maybe the steps are the same.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: They're actually the same. So I have clients from 18 months, all the way up to 50 years. And I don't do anything drastically different. So I have something called the autism healing matrix. And I work with all of my clients on addressing these seven components that are really necessary in healing autism. So it's good to know that regardless of late or early diagnosis, if you just focus on seven things, then you can see change.
Andrea Wien: And what are those seven key points?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Sure. So the first one is diet. That's obviously a very important one. The second one is health care team. And we can talk about each of these components if you'd like, or just one or two. The third component is a supportive environment. So this also includes stress. You mentioned stress before with autoimmune diseases. Stress plays a huge role in healing autism, both for the parent and the child. So supportive environment is really important. Then supplements are also important. And the way this interacts with diet is you'll have those certain supplements in the beginning that help really more with nutrition. And then as the body starts healing, it's able to extract the nutrients from the diet more and more. So supplements then change their focus.
The most important thing to understand about supplements is that they're always changing, and you want them to change. A lot of times people think, "Okay, I just need fish oil, magnesium, melatonin," a few others. But that's really only just the beginning, and just only for a couple of months. So as someone heals all of these things change. There's three more components, we have educational approaches. So there's so much more to teach someone with autism than just ABA. So much more. And so much fun. There are educational approaches that are mainly for parents to reestablish that guiding relationship. I call it like the the mother duck. If you ever seen a mother duck and the ducklings that are just following along and imitating and it's just natural and fun. There's so much more to education than just ABA. So that's a really important component as well. And then the last two are probiotics, and celebrating success.
Andrea Wien: Okay. All right. So I've made some notes here to go back to a couple of these. I think our audience generally has a pretty good idea about diet. We talk about that on the show, ad nauseum. So people have a pretty good idea of what it takes to have good gut health. And then another one we've spoken in detail about is just environment, things like stress, the effects of meditation-
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Yes.
Andrea Wien: …or yoga, getting yourself into more of a parasympathetic rest and digest state. I think health team is new for people. So can you talk about what that is all about?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Sure. So this comes from my days of being a medical strategist. And when you see a doctor, you want to see a doctor who's on the cutting edge of whatever your problem or issue is. So if there's a, we can use autism, for example. So with an autism diagnosis, you want to go to someone who sees only children with autism so that they know exactly what they're talking about. Sometimes they are doing clinical trials on those with autism. They are the most well connected up-to-date. They're the people who are writing the research. So they're the ones who are shaping the field for the next 20, 30 years.
A healthcare care team, it's really important to have an expert like that, so that the questions you have are answered with the most relevant data. So it's important to have that as a team. For autism, you might have an autism specialist. You'll also have more than likely a functional medicine expert. So I've written a book, it's called The Lyons Report, and it lists by state, the functional medicine practitioners who are actually wanting to work on those with autism. So many of them are practicing functional medicine and the majority of their patients are those in autism.
You definitely want someone like that on your healthcare team. And it is this team mentality. So it's not as if one doctor can solve everything and have the answer for everything. It's really about having that team. So you can ask questions, and you can even get the doctors working together. Many doctors who are on the cutting edge love collaborating, they love learning from each other. So this way, your child just benefits so greatly from just the cutting edge research.
Andrea Wien: Now, are there questions that you should ask? Aside from getting the book and looking at what doctors, what questions can you ask someone that might clue you in to whether or not they know what's going on?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: So the best way to approach selecting a doctor is to really understand what problem or issue you're trying to resolve. So sometimes it might be a hearing issue. Sometimes it might be a speech issue. Sometimes it could be something GI related. So the first step really for the parent is to get clear on what's their number one problem. If they could resolve this one thing, how would that really change life overall? And get clear on that. And then start asking the appropriate questions. So let's say it is a GI issue, then, more than likely, the best person to ask would be the functional medicine doctor that specializes in autism. Because they are well-versed in gut health and they'll be able to look at what the problem is, rather than just prescribing something that will suppress the symptoms. So that's the approach to take when building the healthcare team or trying to get answers. The parent really has to get clear first, on their number one problem, then find the right person with the answer for that.
Andrea Wien: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. So supplementation was another one, are there certain nutrient depletions that we see reliably with an autism diagnosis?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Yes. So this is the exciting new part of autism. So as someone heals their needs change, and I know that sounds so basic, but it's actually pretty revolutionary in the autism field. But so in the beginning, common things like vitamin D deficiency, magnesium deficiency, those are the two top deficiencies in the beginning. Vitamin D, usually, supplementation is continued all throughout healing. Magnesium, the really interesting thing with magnesium is sometimes it's stopped, but then sometimes different co-factors are added to the supplementation to help things like mitochondrial health. So supplements are really used powerfully. And in the beginning, it's more general. But as you heal more and more, then they get a lot more specific.
And this is why your question before about parents, how do they get ready and how do they pick a healthcare team? Is as the parents get clear on what the main problem is for the child, then, as they work with the doctors, they can address that and heal more and more the supplements change. So it's this interplay. So the parents get really tuned in, a lot of times in the beginning, it's something like behavior. There might be aggressive behavior, there might be stimming, there might be jumping, things like that. So obviously, those are the first things that need to be healed, so that the child can start participating in things more and more.
Then it becomes more like, "Okay, my child's in school, he's able to sit for five, 10 minutes. How can we get him to sit for 20 minutes?" Okay? And then you start looking at, "All right, where does the focus break down? Does he get restless? Does his body just need to move a lot?" Then something like primitive reflexes might be what needs to be addressed. So you get an expert on primitive reflexes. If it's no, his body's calm, but his mind starts racing, his mind has trouble focusing, then there are different aspects to help increase focus, different supplements for that. So you can see how this all really interplays with each other, it's, oh, goodness, when a child heals, it's just magical. It's absolutely beautiful. And you have the interplay of all of these different components of the autism healing matrix.
Andrea Wien: Yeah, it's like any disease state. I mean, once you start the healing process, more doors open. And the more that you again, one of your points here, celebrate the wins. The more that you really start to fine tune these things, the more results you see. So I love that.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Oh, it is. Yeah. And celebrating success is so important. When I work with my clients, they still always get a kick out of it when they'll tell me. I actually have a series on YouTube, my client calls by asking, what went well this week? And oh, my goodness. The stories, it's like, oh, we went ziplining in the backyard. I'm like, "What?" And it's just so amazing, the family fun that results from just healing autism, from healing some of these comorbidities, things like GI issues. Life just completely change. And you can really just enjoy life. I'm sure when you were pregnant with your son, you were thinking of all these wonderful things you would do with your child and just this family fun. And for those with autism, those dreams just get snatched. I know for me, it was like, oh, my goodness, my daughter's never going to be able to go to prom, she's never going to be able to go to regular school, she's never going to have friends. At that time. She wasn't smiling. She wasn't playing with any toys. I mean, it was really bleak.
And so then as my daughter healed, as other children heal, really celebrating and saying, "Yes, she can go to prom." All of these different things, it's just so important from that mindset piece of really celebrating and just enjoying your child during the process of healing. So it's not as if healing autism is all about, "All right, let's get to the end point." No, it's about it having fun along the entire way and celebrating successes is a huge component in that.
Andrea Wien: The Microbiome Report is brought to you by BIOHM Health. Do you have a passion for gut health and want to change the lives of others? You could become a biome ambassador and start making a difference today. Biome ambassadors are smart, health conscious, social entrepreneurs who get to work on their own terms, earn rewards, and make real money. To learn more about how to become an ambassador and hear from other ambassadors in the program, head to biohmhealth.com, B-I-O-H-M-Health.com. Now back to the show. So do we know-
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Yes.
Andrea Wien: …from the research, are there certain strains of bacteria or fungi that are more beneficial for someone with an autism diagnosis?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: So there are. And probiotics, there's basically two phases. So when the gut has dysbiosis, and let's say it has pathogens, or it has unbalance of healthy bacteria, anything along those lines. First, what's done is to get rid of whatever's bad in the gut. So different probiotics can be used at that time, with general probiotics. But then in order to really solidify that gut health and have that gut be dynamic for the rest of the life, there is different strains for someone to take based upon research. So I actually have a course it's called Probiotics to Heal Awetism. So it's for those who are in that second part of the phase.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: So Candida has been resolved, there's no pathogens, all of that has been taken care of and you're in that rebuilding stage. So there are many different strains. And it's important to do them one by one. The first one, I'll tell you is acidophilus. Acidophilus obviously, is universally very good for most people. But it's a great one to start rebuilding the gut for those with autism. So my course takes people through an entire year of different probiotics one per each month, and teaches them okay, this is the science, this is the reason why you would want to be having this probiotic for this month. And I also recommend great friends that have potent probiotics.
Andrea Wien: Now, this was just something that I'm thinking of as you were talking about probiotics, do we see with children or adults that have autism, when they take around of antibiotics that maybe their symptoms exacerbate again?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Well, it's interesting. So not always. Sometimes and this is, you've gone down a big rabbit hole. So there are antibiotics that when taken, vancomycin is one of them, when taken, it really benefited the child. So the vancomycin research actually is what started fecal transplants in those with autism. So scientists were seeing this benefit. It first started anecdotally with different functional medicine doctors. Like I'm talking about, who you want on a healthcare team, you want people who are actually noticing these trends, doing clinical trials, things like that.
So those doctors noticed, "Hey, when I give my patient vancomycin, they get a lot better, they're able to function, they get sleep better." All of these different issues were resolved. But then when the vancomycin stopped all of those behaviors came back. And remember autism is really tracked by behaviors. So a scientist started thinking, "Okay, obviously gut health is hugely important in those with autism," and what else could they do? So they first did a study on fecal transplants. And what they did was they did an extended fecal transplant. Usually a fecal transplant is just one or two, they did an extended version of it. And they then saw the changes in those children with autism.
And what's really exciting is, those children were tracked. This was a small number, it's about 18 children. And those children were tracked over years. And after they did another clinical trial, trying to understand, "Okay, what has changed?" And children came off the spectrum. Not necessarily resulting only from that fecal transplant, they were taking supplements, they had a focus on diet, they had different educational approaches. So it's not just a one and done thing, but those children who had the fecal transplant developmentally, we're catching up at rates that are typically not seen.
So gut health and antibiotics, sometimes actually can benefit those with autism, it just goes to show that pathogen, so that first stage of probiotics, I was telling you about making sure that there's nothing in the gut that shouldn't be. So looking at all the different pathogens, the tapeworms, the parasites, these are actually real things. And really making sure that is addressed. If there's anything in the gut that shouldn't be there, that should be addressed first.
Andrea Wien: Now I can imagine, the parents are pretty desperate when they come to you sometimes. So when a typical family comes to you, what can they really expect in terms of healing? What are the markers that... I'm sure, of course, that they vary for everyone. But what level of healing do you typically see in most patients?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: The limit is only by their belief. The science says 9% can heal. So how do you know who is the 9% and who isn't? You don't. So when I first work with a client, my belief is the sky's the limit. There's nothing that says certain people can't heal. There's no science research that says, okay, if you have this genetic marker, if you have this pathogen, if you're X number age, there's none of that. There's no hard research that says someone can't heal completely. So I always operate from whatever can happen, can happen. I don't have a limit, because I have no reason to put a limit on anyone.
Many times with parents, the first things that I do with them is I work with their vision. And I ask them, "How do you see your child in a year?" And many times, that's really the first place to start. Because how can you celebrate success, if you can't even see it? You have to be able to see changes in your child for them to happen. Because if you don't believe in them, if you don't believe in your child, nothing's going to change. And that's where I work with, with my clients. So there's absolutely no reason, scientifically for anyone to think, "Oh, others can heal from autism, but not my child." There's no scientific logic to that whatsoever.
Andrea Wien: Right. And this is a great segue into the last question. Why do you use the word, awetism? A-W-E, at the beginning? How awesome would you spell?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: That's definitely a very good lead in. So I'll tell a personal story. Is that all right?
Andrea Wien: Of course, yeah.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: I hated the word autism. When my daughter was diagnosed, oh, my gosh, I would hear that word and I just would get so mad and I would just be like, "I do not want to have autism. I don't know what to do with autism. I don't want to be a parent of a child with autism." That word, it really bothered me. And so then I heard different parents use words, "Oh, my child's on the spectrum." I was like, "Oh, that's a lovely way to say it. Okay, on the spectrum." And then it was like, "Theresa, you're just avoiding reality." So it was just having to come to terms with what I was dealing with.
And so as I started helping my daughter, I would just see her have, let's say, complete stomach pains, just to use a general term, she would be having complete stomach pains, not have slept, she would have every reason to be grouchy. But yet there she would be, trying to do something. And really trying. And I'm looking at her and I'm like, "Wow." I was so in awe of how she was still wanting to have life, how she was still wanting to learn. Even though many times it was so hard and yeah, she would have meltdowns and all of these things. But she still was just getting up and trying and trying and trying. And children with autism they're like that. It's so hard to imagine what it would be like to be someone with autism, especially on the lower functioning side, and still get up every day and be like, "Yeah, I'm going to try learning. I'm going to do my best. I'm going to..." Regardless of what it is.
And as I work with clients now, oh, my goodness, it's just... I had a client the other day whose child was getting vitamin B 12 shots. And first couple of times, this child did not want a shot. Who wants a shot? But then after a few days, the child started feeling better, started talking a little bit more. So then she started asking the mother for the vitamin B 12 shot. That is awetism. That is A-W-E-T-I-S-M. That is this child knows, "Wait a second, that shot is making me feel better. I want to be able to play with my brothers and sisters. I want to be able to go to school and learn. I want to be able to talk to my mom." Those are all the aspects of autism that so many people don't get to see.
So that's why even to this day, when I write autism, many times I write the A-W-E part because that is how I see autism right now. I don't see it as something that's negative, I see it as something that can be absolutely beautiful, and just a way of learning, a way of being compassionate, a way of seeing things that most times a parent wouldn't even see. So it's just I absolutely love what I do and helping parents see that A-W-E, see that beautifulness in their child and see how their child doesn't necessarily want to withdraw. They want to enjoy life. They want to enjoy family time and all of that. It's truly beautiful to see a child heal from autism.
Andrea Wien: That's such a great perspective. Okay, I know I said that was the last question. But we have one more, based on all of that. Just based on how excited you are about the whole research, everything where autism developments are going. What is one thing that you're most excited about? We talked about fecal transplants, we talked about some of these clinical trials, what gets you the most fired up?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: There's a tipping point. There's a tipping point where the parent just knows without a doubt, "Oh, yeah, we got this." And it usually comes after a few months of seeing these small changes. So the first change might be like, the child slept through the night. Oh, wow. The parent might not have slept for a year, two years. I have some parents who haven't slept for a decade having a full peaceful night's sleep. So all these little changes and they'll say, "Well, I hope things change. I hope things change." And it's like a little train like, "Well, I think I can, I think I can, I think... And then all of a sudden it's like off and running and the child's out wanting to play soccer with friends and it just snowballs.
So being able to take this science and, oh, there's so much cutting edge science that's coming up. Just functional medicine as a whole, oh, my goodness is a completely game changer. Just probiotics in itself sometimes can really make that difference for a parent where they're like, "Oh, wow, my child doesn't have to have diarrhea their whole entire life. Just a little probiotic change that." So sometimes it's just these small changes that really get parents excited and it really gets them to be able to see that awetism, that A-W-E and that is what I love. So taking that science and real life success for those parents and those children. It's just, oh, my goodness, it's magical. I love it. I absolutely love it.
Andrea Wien: And what aspect of the research are you most excited about? What have you seen in the current literature that gives you hope? Or makes you most excited about what's coming science wise?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Wow, that's a lot, that's a tough question. That is a really tough question. The IQ research was really important I think, for me. Just because it really debunks that whole window of opportunity. And there's a lot of parents out there who get so upset with themselves when their child's like six, or seven, and they think nothing can be done. It's so untrue. Functional medicine as a whole is starting to become a lot more accepted. So some functional medicine doctors are able to participate in insurance, which is exciting. There's different research on functional medicine as a whole, showing that it really improves the quality of life. So it's not some off topic medical information, it's really starting to become mainstream. So that's really exciting.
And then, of course, with the gut microbiota of fecal transplants, that's hugely interesting. There's research going on with primitive reflexes that really help with focus. So as the child's healed so many of the different larger aspects of autism, and they're like, "I want to study, I really want to learn, but I get distracted," primitive reflexes really help with being able to maintain focus. And that's usually exciting. There's clinical trials going on there showing that doing these primitive reflex exercises are just as better if not better than certain medications. And they have a long lasting impact. So there's so much research that's going on, that can really have a meaningful impact. It's not this abstract thing. That's one thing that's been great about autism is the research very rarely is abstract, where it won't have an impact. It's really impactful. So there's a lot I'm excited about.
Andrea Wien: Yeah. This is great. Dr. Lyons, thank you so much. This has been so insightful and so helpful for I'm sure so many parents and people who may be struggling with this and looking for answers. I know when anything is wrong, people really seek out this information. So thank you so much for being vocal about it. If people want to learn more about you, read some of your books, connect with you, how can they do that?
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Well, my new book is out and it's called The Lyons Report. And you can just go to thelyonsreport.com, and that will give you information on where to buy it. It's a book on functional medicine as well as listing the top 70 functional medicine practitioners who focus on autism. That's a great starting place for anybody. I'm on YouTube, so you can certainly check out all my science videos on YouTube, and Instagram as well. My website is also A-W-E-T-I-S-M.net.
Andrea Wien: Okay, great. And just so people know, it's Lyons with a Y. So L-Y-O-N-S.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: Yes.
Andrea Wien: Okay, great. We'll link to all of that in the show notes as well. Dr. Lyons, thank you so much for the time today.
Dr. Theresa Lyons: You're welcome. It's been my absolute pleasure.
Andrea Wien: As always, thanks so much for listening to the show. To connect with Dr. Lyons and pick up a copy of her book, head to awetism.net. That's all A-W-E-T-I-S-M.net. We'll of course link to this in the show notes at biohmblog.com under the podcast heading. This episode has been powered by BIOHM Health, a leader in gut and optimal health. Until next time, I'm Andrea Wien.
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