Autism finding could lead to simple urine test for the condition

Children with autism have a different chemical fingerprint in their urine than non-autistic children, according to new research published tomorrow in the print edition of the Journal of Proteome Research.

The researchers behind the study, from Imperial College London and the University of South Australia, suggest that their findings could ultimately lead to a simple urine test to determine whether or not a young child has autism.

Autism affects an estimated one in every 100 people in the UK. People with autism have a range of different symptoms, but they commonly experience problems with communication and social skills, such as understanding other people’s emotions and making conversation and eye contact.

People with autism are also known to suffer from gastrointestinal disorders and they have a different makeup of bacteria in their guts from non-autistic people.

Today’s research shows that it is possible to distinguish between autistic and non-autistic children by looking at the by-products of gut bacteria and the body’s metabolic processes in the children’s urine. The exact biological significance of gastrointestinal disorders in the development of autism is unknown.

The distinctive urinary metabolic fingerprint for autism identified in today’s study could form the basis of a non-invasive test that might help diagnose autism earlier. This would enable autistic children to receive assistance, such as advanced behavioural therapy, earlier in their development than is currently possible.

At present, children are assessed for autism through a lengthy process involving a range of tests that explore the child’s social interaction, communication and imaginative skills.

Early intervention can greatly improve the progress of children with autism but it is currently difficult to establish a firm diagnosis when children are under 18 months of age, although it is likely that changes may occur much earlier than this.

The researchers suggest that their new understanding of the makeup of bacteria in autistic children’s guts could also help scientists to develop treatments to tackle autistic people’s gastrointestinal problems.

Professor Jeremy Nicholson, the corresponding author of the study, who is the Head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, said: “Autism is a condition that affects a person’s social skills, so at first it might seem strange that there’s a relationship between autism and what’s happening in someone’s gut. However, your metabolism and the makeup of your gut bacteria reflect all sorts of things, including your lifestyle and your genes. Autism affects many different parts of a person’s system and our study shows that you can see how it disrupts their system by looking at their metabolism and their gut bacteria.

“We hope our findings might be the first step towards creating a simple urine test to diagnose autism at a really young age, although this is a long way off – such a test could take many years to develop and we’re just beginning to explore the possibilities. We know that giving therapy to children with autism when they are very young can make a huge difference to their progress. A urine test might enable professionals to quickly identify children with autism and help them early on,” he added.

The researchers are now keen to investigate whether metabolic differences in people with autism are related to the causes of the condition or are a consequence of its progression.

The researchers reached their conclusions by using H NMR Spectroscopy to analyse the urine of three groups of children aged between 3 and 9: 39 children who had previously been diagnosed with autism, 28 non-autistic siblings of children with autism, and 34 children who did not have autism who did not have an autistic sibling.

They found that each of the three groups had a distinct chemical fingerprint. Non-autistic children with autistic siblings had a different chemical fingerprint than those without any autistic siblings, and autistic children had a different chemical fingerprint than the other two groups.


  1. Why not prevent bad things from happening for your health rather than being faced with them and trying all kinds of medical solutions to cure it? It is common knowledge that a healthy couple life means high health levels for both partners. Use nymphomax and follow a balanced life schedule in order to maintain constructiveness in your couple life. This may not apparently nothing to do with a certain issue like bones strengthening, but this is to key of learning the wide significance of prevention.

  2. Is there any possibility that ‘correcting’ gut flora as is now being done with other gastrointestinal disorders might have an impact on autistic behaviors. Is it reasonable to think that the viral and bacterial population of one’s gut (no matter how it got disrupted; that can happen through any number of means, one of which may or may not be vaccination in vulnerable children, another of which is almost certainly antibiotic use) might change one’s chemistry significantly enough to create or exacerbate any number of behaviors, not all of which may be on the autism spectrum, perhaps even stretching to a variety of neurological disorders like depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, as well as any number of other ailments currently considered to be psychological in nature as well as probably a host of physical disorders? The digestive process is so important in the workings of one’s body that it seems imbalances there (which would, as is consistent with many disorders including autism, be more prevalent in a nation like the US in which diets tend to be subpar in quality and consumed in greater amounts) could be connected with the workings of almost any other system.

  3. My eldest daughter has severe autism (diagnosed when she was just 21 months old) . She is now 7 and half and a walking contradiction for what leading autistic professionals is typical for autistic children. She has genetic autism, not environmental autism (the more common and fast growing form). My daughter has no gut issues or gluten intolerances, but she does react to artificial food coloring. So having gut problems does not rule in or rule out autism.

    Urine tests does make sense as a good indicator and less invasive than spinal fluid testing where it can be seen whether the brain is producing the chemicals necessary to do “garbage collection” for unused neurons. Those with genetic autism do not seem to have the ability to create the brain chemistry necessary for “garbage collection” and those with environmental autism have the brain chemistry, but it is being used to clean up other toxins (i.e. heavy metals, processed sugars, gluten, etc) rather than doing “garbage collection” of unused neurons.

    So the test will likely catch those with obvious signs of autism and be able to reconfirm that the person with autism is lacking the necessary brain chemistry for “garbage collection”, but will likely miss those that have minor signs of autism, who have the right brain chemistry, but not enough to do the job. So the test will not be definitive, but it will be indicative and definitely another tool in the test of early detection and prevention.

  4. I can’t help but wonder exactly what diagnoses the study accepted as autism, as I’ve yet to meet any psychologists or psychiatrists who could agree on more than two or three. They *really* disagree on Asperger’s Syndrome, which happens to be a diagnosis hurled in my direction regularly.

    • Seriously! I am continually frustrated by the utter lack of consistency in regards to diagnosing autism spectrum disorders. The spectrum consists of a laundry list of symptoms and behaviours from which doctors are encouraged to choose as though it were a Chinese menu. “Pick one from column A and two from columns B and C. Five or more? Congratulations! It’s autism! Rice or noodles?”

      I have