How a Ketogenic Diet Can Be Used as a Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
In the age of autism, families all over the world are looking for a solution to the disorder that plagues children and adults at an alarming rate. At least 1 in 36 children will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder this year, up from 1 in 68 in 2014. This number has only continued to grow at an exacerbating rate for years now, and shows no sign of stopping.
Research has found that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is most likely caused by a series of genetic and nongenetic factors. Some research has linked autism to an imbalance in stomach bacteria, which has been shown to influence behavior. An imbalance in the gut biome can cause issues in the stomach that are thought to drive behavioral issues common in autistic spectrum disorder.
Currently, ASD treatments help ease its symptoms, but do not help deal with the root cause of the problem. Some scientists around the world think that ketogenic diets may play a role in easing the symptoms of autism, if not completely reversing signs of the disorder.
Keto as a Therapy For Children With autism
Autism is characterized by a series of developmental disability that is caused by changes in the brain. These changes affect the way that individuals socialize, communicate, and act in their daily lives. Early onset symptoms include:
Child does not respond to their name by 1 year of age
No imagination or “pretending” by 18 months
Avoiding eye contact
Flapping, rocking, or spinning incessantly
Delayed language skills
When a person’s gut biome is out of balance, it can make a person crave certain foods that the bacteria in the stomach wants, like sweet starchy foods. This gives the bad bacteria in the gut their fix, and leaves the bacteria’s host hungry and craving even more. Diet has commonly been altered as a form of therapy for individuals with ASD.
A pilot study conducted with 30 children on the autism spectrum put them on a keto diet for six months. Some of the children’s behavioral and social symptoms improved enough to be taken out of special education classes and placed back into normal educational classes. The other children who stuck with the ketogenic diet saw improved social behaviors, cooperation, less hyperactivity, and better speech.
Another study published in the Journal of Child Neurology follows 30 children with significant autistic symptoms as they adapt to a therapeutic ketogenic diet. Their diets were modified for a more balanced keto nutrition intake. The diet alone showed a significant improvement in cognitive and language skills, social skills, and a complete resolution of autistic “ticks”.
How Does the Keto Diet Help?
The ketogenic diet is achieved by eating low amounts of carbohydrates and high levels off. This causes your body to go into a metabolic state called ketosis, releasing ketones into your bloodstream instead of sugar that is converted from carbohydrates. This helps the body transfer its choice of energy from glucose to fat, lowering blood sugar, balancing out energy levels, and boosting metabolism.
A telling sign of autism is inflammation. Due to the way a ketogenic diet works, there is a general decrease of inflammation in the body, but more specifically the brain. In a study conducted by Doctor Susan Masino a ketogenic diet was fed to autistic mice for three to four weeks. It found that the autistic behaviors and tendencies in the animals were reversed, leaving them to behave more socially correct and they showed a decreased overall inflammation.
Dr. Masino has hypothesized that adenosine is increased in the body on a keto diet. A neurotransmitter that affects many parts of the body, Adenosine acts as a nervous system depressant, helping to relax and relieve the overactive symptoms of autism by reducing inflammation.
A small study found that children with autism often also have problems with efficient mitochondrial processes. Some scientists believe that a ketogenic diets helps mitochondria deliver energy to the body all while reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. Proper mitochondrial processes are important in areas of the body that demand high amounts of energy, like the brain.
How well a ketogenic works for individuals on the autism Spectrum is largely unknown. There is not enough evidence to strongly support that a switch to a ketogenic diet can ease or eliminate autism in everyone diagnosed, but it has its place as a promising therapeutic option for ASD.
Implementing a Keto Diet for Autistic Children
Since different foods can cause the body to interact with medications differently, it’s important to switch a child to a ketogenic diet under the supervision of a professional. As a general rule, make sure that your child is getting enough protein and calories from whole foods every day. It’s important for a child to eat the appropriate amount of nutrients or else they may lose weight they need, stunting their growth.
If you are changing your child’s diet to a ketogenic diet, make sure that they consume primarily short and medium-chain saturated fatty acids, as well as unsaturated fats. Medium chain fats are converted in the liver to provide an autistic brain with the proper fuel source it needs. Some children who have autism may also have genetic a defect that changes the way their body burns fat, so limit the intake of long-chain saturated fats.
A cyclical ketogenic diet can be a great way to introduce your children to a ketogenic diet. With this type of keto, children are only required to eat a pure ketogenic diet for a few weeks to a few months, and then they can slowly reintroduce carbs onto their plate. With this type of ketogenic diet, individuals are often able to stabilize their blood sugar while also increasing the beneficial bacteria in the gut, further reducing inflammation. Tracking important macro nutrients through a keto diet app makes it easier to monitor progress and adhere to the program while you assess its impact on ASD symptoms.
The source of autism may still be unknown, but every day scientists are working to find therapeutic and attainable ways to help individuals lessen the impact of their symptoms. As long as a ketogenic diet is followed under the supervision of a physician or medical professional, it’s worth trying if it can help reduce the symptoms associated with ASD.