Study shows that exercise can relieve symptoms of autism
Autism Spectrum Disorder, autism for short, is a developmental disorder that varies in severity and is characterized by difficulty in communication and social interaction. An autistic person is plagued by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior.
Researchers are yet to find a cure for Autism and there are no drugs for the disorder. But there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel as new studies have revealed promising ways to improve the symptoms associated with the disorder.
In a study published in the Cell Reports journal, researchers stated that autistic behaviours in animals were reversed when they exercised. According to the researchers, when autistic animals were subjected to physical activity, they lost the symptoms associated with the disorder.
According to Ryuta Koyama, one of the lead scientists who carried out the study at the University of Tokyo, exercise can be a safe and drug-free way to improve and change the brain structure of Autistic persons.
People and animals with Autism have damaging connections between neurons in their brains. Physical activity seemed to help trim damaging networks between neurons in their brains which causes a broad range of negative conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, etc.
In the groundbreaking study, researchers at the University of Tokyo infected some pregnant mice with some virus which interfered with their neurodevelopment and created symptoms associated with autism in their offspring.
When the autistic offspring reached adulthood, the researchers introduced some of them to physical activity by installing running wheels in their cages for about a month. The exercising mice were then brought out and observed, and according to the researchers, they noticed that the Autistic mice who were subjected to physical exercise started behaving like the offspring of mice who were not infected, and had lost most of the symptoms of autism.
Initially, the researchers were not sure on the amount of exercise required for better results since they couldn’t tell how much exercise each mouse got, or if there was a minimum amount of physical exercise needed to trigger the desired result.
But in subsequent experiments, the researchers noted that they may have found how using the wheels had reversed the Autistic symptoms in the mice. According to them, in the development of the brain of animals without Autism, the brain produces more cells that are needed.
And then the microglia, which are immune cells in the brain, reduces the excess cells so they don’t interfere with other brain cells. The researchers said that this does not happen in animals with autism. The excess brain cells in animals with autism are not removed by the microglia. The researchers’ explanation is that it looks like it is the physical activity that does the work of the microglia or helps it to clear the excess brain cells.
The researchers admit that it is early days and therefore they are yet to understand how the whole thing works. According to Koyama, it was the exercise that energized the connections in the neurons so that the microglia can easily target the excess brain cells.
Although the research is yet to be carried out on humans, it is promising and in sharp contrast with previous studies which have all suggested that autism symptoms in humans cannot be reversed. The researchers are however quick to note that the results of their study do not show whether it is the excess brain cells and their connections that cause autism.
Koyama and his colleagues cannot wait to try their findings on humans but stress that for now, we can learn from the mice in that they used the running wheels installed in their cages without force. Koyama, therefore, urged parents with children who are autistic, to encourage those with interest in physical activity.
Although it is early days and we are yet to see trials on humans, there is no doubt that the study is promising and there is quite a lot to learn from the initial findings so far. Researchers at the University of Berkeley have also published a similar study on the alleviation of autism symptoms. We can’t wait to see the findings when the experts start conducting trials on human beings.