Sue's Blog

ABC 4 Corners on autism and propionates 27/8/2012

The ABC's Autism Enigma documentary (ABC focuses on gut bacteria including PPA (propionic acid) and autism.

Propionic acid

Australia has one of the highest permitted levels in the world of propionic acid and propionates used as preservatives (E280-283). Failsafers have long known that propionates especially as the bread preservative 282 can cause problems such as restlessness and poor social behaviour. As Dr McFabe says: "in my previous work, we were working with this compound propionic acid and we found that for such a simple molecule it had very widespread effects on the central nervous system, affecting brain development, metabolism and immune function and then we put 2 and 2 together and said hey these bacteria in the gut, when children eat carbs, ferment the carbs and make propionic acid, and in addition some of the foods that these children craved, in addition to being high carb, did in fact contain propionic acid as a food preservative ...."

We were surprised by some of the comments in the program e.g. "So far there are no studies showing that PPA or E280 isn't safe for adults when used as a preservative" given the three studies and a large number of reader stories on our website such as those quoted below.

We were also surprised by the comment ".. one of the byproducts of clostridia is a short chain fatty acid called propionic acid. It's not a neurotoxin but it does have dramatic effects". In fact, in is well known that in children with a metabolic disease called propionic acidemia who are unable to metabolise this acid due to an enzyme deficiency, extremely high levels of propionic acid are neurotoxic. Brazilian researchers have produced the same effect in rats by giving them propionic acid.

In addition, US mother Ellen Bolte described how her son's autism reversed when he took Vancomycin antibiotics to reduce clostridium gut bacteria but returned at the end of antibiotic therapy.

We agree with this online reader comment from the Dr Sydney Finegold interview: "I was recently hospitalized for reasons that have nothing to do with autism spectrum. Picked up Clostridium Difficile. Was told by the public health nurse to get some Saccharomyces boulardii, a probiotic that is especially effective against Cdiff."

Several members of the Food Intolerance Network have reported gut healing success by using a combination of failsafe eating and a probiotic called GastroHealth4 by Naturopathica, which contains saccharomyces boulardii.

Diet for autism: of course we recommend the full RPAH elimination diet with GFDF options as the most successful dietary treatment for autism.

Reader stories

* About 4 weeks ago I removed 282 from my sons diet and he improved greatly, he would only speak in a mumble, he suffered from many nose bleeds in the week, was very negative about everything, not affectionate, didn't interact at preschool, would not co-operate at speech therapy. The change has been great he is talking so much more, he has not had a nose bleed since stopping 282, he is loving to everyone, he was great at speech did everything he was asked and sat still, interacts with others and notices things around him so much more - by email from [958]

* We gave up 282 preservatives in bread after reading your book 'Fed up' about two years ago – within a week my wife was free of urinary incontinence and over a period of about three months I was able to give up all asthma medications. – readers aged 60 and 56 from from [338]

See more by searching our success stories for 282 or see a collection of propionate stories at

See also a 37 page collection of success stories using diet for autism, ASD, spectrum and Aspergers at

Some scientific references

(1) Swain, A., V. Soutter, et al. (1985). "Salicylates, oligoantigenic diets, and behaviour." Lancet 2(8445): 41-2.

(2) Dengate, S. and A. Ruben (2002). "Controlled trial of cumulative behavioural effects of a common bread preservative." J Paediatr Child Health 38(4): 373-6.

(3) Brusque, A. M., C. F. Mello, et al. (1999). "Effect of chemically induced propionic acidemia on neurobehavioral development of rats." Pharmacol Biochem Behav 64(3): 529-34. Our results suggest that early postnatal PPA administration to rats alters normal development and induces long-term behavioral deficits in aversive and nonaversive tasks.

(4) McFarland LV et al. A randomized placebo-controlled trial of Saccharomyces boulardii in combination with standard antibiotics for Clostridium difficile disease. JAMA. 1994 Jun 22-29;271(24):1913-8. The combination of standard antibiotics and S boulardii was shown to be an effective and safe therapy for patients with recurrent CDD; no benefit of S boulardii was demonstrated for those with an initial episode of CDD.

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