ADHD and Autism Linked to Early Gut Microbiota Disturbances: New Insights

ADHD and Autism Linked to Early Gut Microbiota Disturbances: New Insights

3 min read

Jonas Enge
Jonas Enge@maccyber

Researchers have long sought to uncover the reasons why some children develop ADHD and autism. A new study might have found a part of the answer.

"Already by one year of age, connections between the gut microbiota and these diagnoses can be observed," says Johnny Ludvigsson, senior professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Linköping University.

Gut Microbiota and Neurodevelopment

The study revealed a clear link between gut bacteria and neurodevelopmental disorders. Researchers followed over 16,000 Swedish children from birth into their twenties. They discovered that children who developed ADHD or autism had distinct gut microbiota compositions in infancy compared to those who did not.

Influence of Early-Life Factors

Several early-life factors were identified as influential in the development of NDs:

  • Infections and Antibiotic Use: Frequent infections requiring antibiotics, especially during the first years of life, were strongly associated with the development of NDs. Otitis (ear infections) and gastroenteritis were particularly notable.
  • Chemical Exposures: Maternal smoking during pregnancy and exposure to parental smoking in early childhood significantly increased the risk of ADHD and ASD.
  • Family History and Genetics: A family history of asthma, celiac disease, or type 1 diabetes was linked to a higher risk of NDs. The presence of specific HLA genotypes, such as DR4-DQ8, also correlated with increased risk.
  • Early-Life Stress: Serious life events and psychosocial stressors, including parental separation, serious illness, and unemployment, were shown to elevate ND risk.

Metabolite Profiles

The study also highlighted distinct metabolite profiles associated with future NDs. Key findings included:

  • Lower Linolenic Acid: Linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid important for brain development, was found in lower levels in the cord serum of children who developed ASD.
  • Higher PFDA Toxins: Perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA) levels were higher in the cord serum of these children, indicating potential exposure to harmful environmental toxins.

Recent Findings on Gut Flora

Disturbances in gut flora at one year old are linked to ADHD and autism development later in life. The study, a collaboration between Linköping University and the University of Florida, emphasizes the role of gut flora in overall health and its potential impact on neurodevelopment.

Practical Advice for Parents

To reduce the risk of NDs, Ludvigsson recommends several precautionary measures:

  • Avoid smoking during pregnancy.
  • Maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy.
  • Prolong breastfeeding if possible.
  • Limit exposure to environmental toxins such as PFAS chemicals.
  • Avoid unnecessary antibiotic treatments during the first year of life.
  • Establish healthy eating habits early in the child's life.


The study by Ahrens et al., coupled with insights from recent research, offers groundbreaking insights into the early predictors of ADHD and autism. By understanding the intricate connections between gut microbiota, early-life factors, and neurodevelopment, we can better identify at-risk children and develop strategies to support their healthy development. This research highlights the profound impact of the gut-brain axis and opens new avenues for preventing and managing neurodevelopmental disorders.


gut microbiota
infant health
early-life factors
antibiotic use
chemical exposures
family history
prenatal stress
linolenic acid
PFDA toxins
gut-brain axis
early intervention
Linköping University
University of Florida
Johnny Ludvigsson
child development
preventive measures