KLE1738, GABA, and a Possible Autism Connection

I have written on the role of GABA in autism here and here and here. GABA is involved in calming neural activity, and having less of it is associated with autism. Now we have discovered a gut bacterium that seems to survive only on GABA.

Many of us on the spectrum also have gut problems. It may be that we need these bacteria, named KLE1738, but it also may be that one can have too many. Or, seemingly oddly, not enough.

It may very well be that one needs these bacteria to clear out GABA. Without enough KLE1738 to eat excess GABA, it’s likely that GABA would get converted back to glutamate (enzymes work both ways, after all). This would keep glutamate levels high, and glutamate both contributes to positive feedback in the brain and to leaky gut.

This may in fact  be the more likely scenario simply because too many KLE1738 would result in starvation and result in the numbers dwindling back to normal. At the same time, one could imagine a scenario where there is a boom-bust cycle of KLE1738, with an alternation between too many and too few. Both too many and two few would result in GABA imbalances. And these swings could also result in the seeming bipolar behaviors we see in many on the spectrum.

The Complex Biochemistry of the Autism-GI Connection

From the “I’m not at all surprised at this,” section, researchers have found GI problems in autistic people to be genetically linked to their autism. Now, while I have connected autism to leaky gut through glutamine, these researchers have connected autism and the GI tract through serotonin.

Serotonin is derived from tryptophan, an amino acid, and serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin, three brain hormones that affect social behavior, are all activated by vitamin D hormone. There is recent research that shows a connection between this system and autism. It is perhaps not surprising that a system involving neurotransmitters plays a role in certain kinds of autism.

It turns out that low vitamin D affects the levels of these hormones. And, coincidentally, when I went to see the doctor a few years ago for a checkup, he told me I had low vitamin D.

Consider this fact from Mercola: “vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means if you have a gastrointestinal condition that affects your ability to absorb fat, you may have lower absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D as well. This includes gut conditions like Crohn’s, celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and inflammatory bowel disease.”

All of those gut conditions are caused by leaky gut. Leaky gut is caused by too much glutamate relative to glutamine. This in turn affects the ability to absorb vitamin D, which in turn affects the production of the above neurotransmitters. Including serotonin, which in turn affects the gut. 

I have vitamin D and glutamine tablets in my cupboard. It looks like I’ll be taking them every day from now on. And asking Daniel’s doctor about whether or not Daniel has a vitamin D deficiency. Because Daniel has severe GI problems.

Social Bonding and the Gut

Many with autism have gut problems, and most of the time those gut problems are related to the bacteria in our guts. I certainly have gut problems, especially but not exclusively related to gluten, so you will on occasion read something on gut-related issues.

Which brings me to recent research that showed that there is a relationship between the kinds of bacteria present in the gut and degree of social bonding. While close social bonds will result in the easy spreading of pathogens, they will also result in the easy spreading of beneficial bacteria as well–which can in turn reduce the likelihood of getting pathogens. We also know that the greater the biodiversity of one’s gut flora, the healthier the gut.

Of course, if strong social interactions, including frequent touching, is necessary to maintain a strong immune system and a healthy gut, it should perhaps not surprise us that autistics have immune system and gut problems. Many of us are very sensitive to touch, especially human touch, and try to avoid it (either directly or indirectly), and this sensitivity can very considerably from day to day.

Social contact, stress physiology and gut microbiome are all intensely related. Your social contact defines how much stress you interact with, and both can influence the cocktail of microbes in your gut.
Of course, autistics are famously anxious and stressed as well. Well, it turns out that high anxiety is also connected to touch, as I’ve noted before. Lower stress also helps you maintain healthy bacteria in your gut, so strong social bonds that include a great deal of touching is both directly and indirectly beneficial to your gut microbiome. Equally, avoiding such contact means you won’t benefit from these same social gains.
Ironically, given the fact that social interactions cause us anxiety, and yet we need social interactions to reduce anxiety, we on the spectrum seem to be fully impaled on the horns of a dilemma.

A Report on an Experiment with Glutamine

After writing about the connection of glutamine to both leaky gut and autism, I decided to experiment upon myself and start taking glutamine supplements. I have been taking them since shortly after I posted that article, and when I was taking them more regularly, I must say that psychologically I did feel a bit different. By definition I could not tell you what feeling neurotypical feels like, so I can’t say I feel that way, but I did feel a bit calmer, more relaxed.

Now, as for the gut issues, after testing the effects of the glutamine one week:

Wednesday I had one cinnamon roll. No gut problems. Thursday, I tried two cinnamon rolls. Again, no gut problems. When I told my wife, she suggested we go eat at CiCi’s Pizza.

Now, the last time I had eaten at CiCi’s, I had a horrendous reaction. I had gut problems for three days. Acid reflux, the whole works. It was one of the worst reactions I’d ever had against gluten. But after taking glutamine for two weeks, I did not have near the reaction. I felt uncomfortable, with a little gas, but it was not a full-blown allergic reaction.

What glutamine does is reduce the diameter of the pores in the small intestines. Leaky gut occurs when the pores in the intestines open up too wide, allowing things like whole proteins through. This can trigger an allergic reaction. But glutamine causes the pores to tighten up. Food then has to be broken down more before it can cross over into the bloodstream. Gluten broken down into its constituent amino acids is no different from any other protein, so if you can prevent it from crossing over as a whole protein, you can eliminate the immunological response to it.

I have continued taking glutamine, for several years now. I mostly try to avoid eating anything with gluten in it, of course, but because I can now take a few gluten tablets before I know I’ll eat wheat, it’s nice to know I don’t have to continue obsessively avoiding it as I once had to do.

Tummy Trouble–Autism and the Gut

I read an article once that said Celiac disease is in part caused by having a leaky gut. Because I have an allergic reaction to gluten, but not full-blown Celiac disease (perhaps), I decided to look up what causes leaky gut and how to take care of the problem.

The problem: the pores are too wide.

The solution: probiotics and glutamine.

Glutamine is an amino acid related to the amino acid glutamate. For you chemistry types, the difference between the two is on the R-group. The OH on the glutamate is replaced by an amine — NH2. Glutamate is made from glutamine, and vice versa. However, it is possible for there to be a mutation on a gene that would result in an enzyme that prefers one over the other.

In some people with autism, there is very high glutamate in the brain. In fact, glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, which implicates it in IWT autism. As it turns out, such autistics not only have high glutamate, but low glutamine as well. If the body is preferentially making glutamate over glutamine, this could not only cause autistic behaviors, but leaky gut and potentially gluten allergy as well. And perhaps not just gluten allergy, since leaky gut can result in a variety of food allergies.

This glutamate-glutamine connection to autism explains why so many on the spectrum have gut problems.

The above linked article also notes that “levels of GAD 65 kDa and GAD 67 kDa proteins, both of which are involved in converting glutamate to GABA, are reduced in the brains of individuals with autism, resulting in increased levels of glutamate in the brain substrate.” Why is this important? Low GABA levels increase feelings of anxiety. Social anxiety is, of course, a main feature of autism.

Thus, a system that preferentially makes glutamate over both GABA and glutamine would, it seems, result in someone having autism. Also, it seems that eating things that could provide GABA and glutamine might reduce some of the negative behaviors associated with autism. Indeed, there does seem to be some research which suggests glutamine supplements could help.

In fact, my son and I now take glutamine if 1) our stomachs are upset and/or 2) if we anticipate eating wheat. And it works. Without it, my son will throw up when he eats wheat, but with it, he won’t even complain about his stomach hurting. Now, in case you’re wondering if there’s a placebo effect, once my son was complaining about his stomach being upset. I couldn’t find any glutamine, but found something else and told him it was glutamine. He threw up anyway. Every other time he had complained about his stomach hurting and I gave him actual glutamine, he was fine.