FRIDAY, April 29, 2022 (HealthDay News) — For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a bidirectional relationship may exist between gastrointestinal (GI) issues and internalizing symptoms, according to a study published online April 20 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Noting that many youth with ASD experience co-occurring conditions such as GI problems and internalizing symptoms, Kristen Dovgan, Ph.D., from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and colleagues analyzed parent reports of GI problems and internalizing symptoms for 621 youth (aged 15 to 17 years) with ASD using path models in a structural equation modeling framework. For each type of relationship between GI problems and internalizing symptoms, separate path analyses were examined while controlling for covariates.

The researchers found that a bidirectional model was the best fitting model, where internalizing symptoms, including withdrawn and anxious behavior, were associated with GI problems such as constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain.

“Stress signals from the brain can alter the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine in the gut which control gastrointestinal motility,” a coauthor said in a statement. “The gut then sends signals back to the brain, and that can, in turn, lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. The cycle then repeats, so novel treatments addressing signals from both the brain and the gut may provide the most benefit.”

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