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 high hopes for this kind of research but it always seems to lead to the same place. Many, but by no means all, autistic people will fit into this pattern. A few people will end up showing the fingerprint common to autistics but will be asymptomatic. The trend will be recognized and people will argue over what the results mean. There will be no conclusive evidence of anything but some studies will show what comes tantalizingly close to proof that all autistics can be diagnosed this way. What will not be mentioned often is that the reason that the results are inconsistent is that the diagnosis is inconsistent. Definitive tests and cures for “autism” will remain out of reach where as tests and research on individual symptoms could yield real results.

  5. So does this mean the same gut bacterium responsible for stomach ulcers have a hand at creating GI problems related to autism?

  6. This makes me wonder there is a connection between Autisum and Celiac disease.

    If there is it also begs to question if some of the issues in finding answers are special interest groups blocking research because it conflicts with their interests.

  7. McMillan clearly you have not taken a micro bacteria class. Gut bacteria and the MMR are two different body systems. The vaccination/ immunological response from the MMR and Gut bacteria are two different things.

    Respiratory illnesses are caused from bacteria getting into the lining of the lungs and attaching to the epithelium. Gut bacteria are the result of the things we ingest. The juices in the stomach destroy most bacteria. This is why we all don’t contract the Staph and Strep found on the surface of most fruits and vegetables. The gut bacteria are determined by the water we drink, and to some extend the food we eat. It is also determined by the location of where we live. Gut bacteria can tell a scientist where you live based on that areas bacteria makeup. SF is going to be different than LA. This finding speaks more to an environment issue, which is consistent with the cluster cases of Autism. Discovery Bay has one of the highest rates of Autism.

    Vaccinations have nothing to do with Autism!

  8. I am intrigued by this research. Fact is our youngest is currently being assessed for possible autistic tendencies which we have come to realise can be very difficult to define in many ‘subtle’ cases. A simple test like this could remove a great deal of uncertainty from a diagnosis and help speed up the process of providing the right sort of support for the individual concerned. I fear it may come too late for our daughter but it does sound like good news.

  9. Irrational behavior never ceases to amaze me. Why couldn’t the lawyer that paid Wakefield off go after big tobacco, coffee or hand sanitizing companies instead of the drug companies?

    Don’t get me wrong, I hate drug companies as much as the next guy… But even if Wakefield’s work was good science, (which it wasn’t,) he ruined any chance of it being taken seriously by having not one, but two huge conflicts of interest.

    What needs to happen for all of you Allen-ites, you need to get someone to reproduce his results with unbiased, untainted science, (which hasn’t happened yet,) and then maybe it wouldn’t be relegated to fringe theories like Astral Projection, Flat-Earth, and Creationism.

    All I know is, right now, I’m an expectant father, and autism scares the hell out of me. But I’m rational enough to realize that the data thus far doesn’t support the MMR case. (There might be a correlation, but nobody’s shown one yet.) Who knows, this work might be used to prove that correlation. And I would be so much happier.

    But saying that this validates Wakefield’s work is like saying an article on surgery in the NEJM validates the Hasbro game “Operation.”

  10. So children with autism have empirical differences in gut bacteria than typical children. Sounds an awful lot like Wakefield’s argument?

    What would be really interesting to see is if the chemical markers these researchers identified can be used as a baseline at birth and tracked in children who react adversely to the MMR. Normal gut bacteria before and steady decline following vaccination would be a compelling case for genetic predisposition triggered by an immunological injury from vaccination.

  11. I don’t really think the food itself is the issue – I think part of it is that you have a child with sensory dysfunction and GI problems – their stomach hurts and they have horrible, acidic diarrhea. Their mind gets overloaded because of the pain – thus the autistic behaviors get worse. I am a dietitian that specializes in children – along with my son having autism I work with other children with autism. 75% of the children I work with on the spectrum have chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation. Diet changes seems to make the GI symptoms diminish and with that the autistic behaviors diminish.

    My own son is an interesting case that I would love to research more. His symptoms defy everything I have known about nutrition and I must admit I don’t fully understand. I really didn’t want to believe in the opiate theories – but my son really seems to fit that. Give him a glass of milk today – 7 years after his diagnosis and I removed milk from his diet – and he will start seeing things that aren’t there. Diet treatment was the ONLY treatment we used on my son.

    • Angel – my son has had constipation all his life (now 17) and also has been diagnosed as possibly on the austism spectrum (varies by doctor) – I never connected the two. Are there any specific foods he should stay away from? and any he should eat more of? Anything is worth a try, Thanks!

      • as an autist…
        Try these means of mitigating it:
        1. work-through, together, “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards.
        The reason for this one, is that it makes one function in the R-Mind Wholeness/Totality mode, which is alien to the Fixed-Symbol/Reductionism/Language/Logic mode of mind that is our alternative-mode.
        This can help mitigate the stuck-in-the-details cognition that can, under some circumstances, get us killed.
        2. understand a few things about our condition: we avoid eye-contact because it feels like assault ( the “science” literature never puts it that way, instead saying it “activates threat-response”, which doesn’t communicate what it feels-like, or what’s going-on ).
        To communicate emotionally, or to learn new languages, we have to *actively* imagine giving meaning to the someone we’re communicating-with.
        ( Pimsleur Japanese, fer instance:
        “say the word for ‘a little'”
        we’ll say it, but without associating meaning into our saying, OR imagining giving meaning to another someone through our saying… which sabotages our learning. Both these imaginings are *necessary* to learning language, and to us, both cost concentration. Neurotypicals don’t have this, and ttbomk, can’t even FIND this info in their own minds, because it’s *sub*-liminal in youse )
        we tend to be in continuous overload, but sometimes really loud music helps pacify our brains ( sounds strange, but research has shown, years ago, iirc, that increasing the signal going into one’s brain makes it easier for it to find /specific/ signal, or do its thing… )
        3. if this bacteria-stuff is right, then head down to the health-food-store, and find yourself the Udo’s gut-bacteria versions that are applicable to ‘im, and put ‘im on a rotating diet of ’em:
        if they have 4 that are appropriate, say upper-gut, middle-gut, lower-gut, and extra-middle-gut, then give 1/day of one of ’em, and rotate through them all, to see if continuously-boosting one’s natural gut ecology mitigates the metabolic-stress we’re under.
        This is my next step with me ( those Udo’s products aren’t cheap, but he seems to be one of the few who GETS it, that we are dynamic ecologies, who happen to need biological wellbeing, instead of just being machanisms! )

        Another means of increasing health, especially for us, is
        Sunshine + aerobics
        ( try 3x 30-40min / week, & 1x 90min/week, in a 2-on / day-off / 2-on cycle: IF someone helps one stick with it, the healing results are astounding.

        A HRM that beeps when one’s heart rate is below or above one’s training-zone makes this MUCH more effective.

        I’ll never bother with a spedo/computer for my bike, again, though, because it is ONLY one’s internal condition that matters, not how many km one did ( in which headwind/tailwind? km is irrelevant! )

        hth to get ya started…

        Oh, and stay off dairy, if you want to find it easier to balance one’s health… the “studies” may not have found psychiatric differences, but from the inside, I can tell you it does make some difference.

        oh, yeah: kill caffeine from one’s diet: rooibos instead of tea, carob+cocoa-butter instead of chocolate, no coffee ( even decaf has enough left to mess with your ability to adapt ), etc…

  12. What an interesting article. I have several friends who have changed diet to help autistic children and it has made a difference.

  13. “advanced behavioural therapy” Now it’s clearly established as a GI – nutritional disorder, that what they recommend? Reminds me of Richard Feynman’s scathing comments on psychiatrists and pseudoscience. Idiots.

  14. I am glad more research is going this way. I have four children – one of which has autism and his urine appears a different from anything I have ever seen. When my son was first diagnosed the GI problems these kids suffered from were new and the treatments weren’t widely accepted. Thankfully I had a physician that agreed to GI testing – showing that the flora in my son’s GI track were unbalanced and showing that he lacked enzymes needed to properly digest most common foods. These facts lead to a treatment that allowed my son to jump from classic autism to Asperger’s syndrome.


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