2019 World Autism Day: What Science Say About The Keto Diet

2019 World Autism Day: What Science Say About The Keto Diet

The world autism awareness day is coming up on the 2nd of April, so we thought it would be a good idea to discuss the connection between the ketogenic diet and autism. We’re also going to give you a quick walkthrough of what you need to know about autism, and whether or not the keto diet can help.

World Autism Awareness Day

The world autism awareness day takes place on the 2nd of April annually. It’s recognized as a day to spread awareness about the autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Autism belongs to a group of neurodevelopmental disorders known as pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). The three core characteristics in those with PDD are [1]:

1. Impaired communication

2. Impaired reciprocal social interaction

3. Repetitive and stereotyped behavior patterns or interests

A 2018 research paper reported that as of 2012, 14.5 per 1000 children aged 8 years have autism spectrum disorder [2].

Types of Autism

Autistic Disorder

Autistic disorder is a neurological disorder that’s often characterized by social and behavioral difficulties. The symptoms of ASD can be identified in early childhood, and in some cases before the child turns two.

Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s syndrome shares the same signs and symptoms as autistic disorder, but it becomes more apparent in preschool age. ASD can be identified before the age of 3, and both disorders can persist into adulthood.

Compared to autistic individuals, those who have Asperger’s have normal intellectual functioning, and may also be more interested in social interactions, and friendship with others.

Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Someone who has a few or mild characteristics of autism is likely to have PDD-NOS.  It’s often referred to as atypical autism or mild autism.

Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD)

CDD is also known as Heller’s’s characterized by late developmental growth in language, social function, and motor skills. They can also have normal development and then experience a sudden and severe reversal.


Signs & Symptoms of Autism

Abnormalities in social and behavioral development are considered to be the most prominent symptom of ASD.

Communication difficulties

Autistic children may find it harder to communicate and make friends. For example, they may not respond immediately when their name is called, despite having no hearing abnormalities. They may often prefer to play alone rather than with others.

Repetitive behavior

Those who have ASD may have repetitive behavioral habits such as repetitive body movements, and fixed routines. Some examples of repetitive body movements found in autistic children include flapping their hands and rocking back and forth.

Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Delayed speech.
  • Strong like or dislike of certain foods
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Repeat words or phrases
  • Impulsivity
  • Short attention span

Causes of Autism

The exact causes of autism are still unknown, but genetics and some environmental factors have been found to play a significant role. Here are some of those common risk factors.


The chances of developing ASD is higher if it runs in your family.

Different studies have reported different mechanisms underlying ASD. Some studies have reported macrocephaly and abnormal neuronal connectivity in those who have autism. Some have associated defects in a number of synaptic proteins to cause Autism [3].


Macrocephaly refers to the overgrowth of the brain, and it’s one of the most frequently observed changes in autistic individuals. For instance, a 2001 study conducted on boys born with macrocephaly found that the boys had a greater risk of developing autism disorder [4].

Cerebral cortex enlargement or hyperplasia

Abnormal enlargement or hyperplasia of the cerebral cortex has been associated with ASD. This is because the frontal and temporal lobes are vital for important brain functions, including social, and language development. Thus when this part of the brain has an abnormality, it has been associated with ASD.


Premature birth

Preterm children born under 34 weeks of gestational age have been associated with a greater risk of developing autism spectrum disorder. For example, a 2018 study assessed a group of preterm and full-term children at ages 18, 24, and 36 months. The study found that preterm children had an increased risk of ASD compared to the full-term children [5].

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

Your doctor or a team of health care professionals will carry out in-depth assessments if they suspect autism. For example, if it’s for your child, they may ask for more information from your child’s nursery or school staff.

A speech and language therapist and an occupational therapist might be assigned to carry out an assessment.

Your doctor will also do a complete physical examination to rule out any other health conditions that may be causing the symptoms you’re concerned about.

You may also have to go through a series of interviews to help them gather more information about your family history and the history of your child’s development.

Autism will be diagnosed once they’ve completed all the necessary assessments and the results indicate autism.

Keto diet and Autism

Here’s what research has to say about the use of the keto diet for autism spectrum disorders.

In a 2017 study, forty-five children with ASD were divided into three groups. One group received a modified Atkins keto diet, the second group received a gluten free casein free diet, and the third was a control group.

Their results revealed that both groups had significant improvements in ATEC and CARS scores compared to the control group. However, the ketogenic diet group scored better in cognition and sociability compared to the gluten-free and control group [6].

A 2018 study found that a modified ketogenic gluten-free diet with MCT significantly improved core autism features in autistic children [7].

One of the main reasons why the ketogenic diet may be beneficial for ASD is because it has been found to have a positive impact on brain health, and helps boost cognitive performance.

As a matter of fact, the ketogenic diet was initially developed to treat another common neurological disorder: epilepsy. It has even helped treat drug failed epileptic patients.

It has been found to have a positive impact on Alzheimer's.


As discussed above, the ketogenic diet has been found to be beneficial for brain health, and cognitive function. Some studies have also found a positive correlation between keto and autism.

Thus it’s not surprising that the keto diet may be able to help treat autism spectrum disorders. However, more reliable clinical trials are needed to come to a better conclusion.

Please consult with your doctor first if you wish to use keto as adjuvant therapy for autism.


  • The world autism day takes place on the 2nd of April annually, and it’s recognized as a day to spread awareness about autism.
  • Those who have autism typically have the following characteristics: impaired communication, behavioral abnormalities, and repetitive behavioral patterns.
  • There are four main types of autism: Autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, PDD-NOS, and Childhood disintegrative disorder.
  • The current research suggests that the ketogenic diet may be effective for treating autism spectrum disorders. However, as stated above, there’s a need for more reliable clinical trials to come to a better conclusion.


  1. Faras H, Al Ateeqi N, Tidmarsh L. Autism spectrum disorders. 2010 July -
  2. Christensen DL, PhD et al. Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years – Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2012. 2018 November -
  3. Won H, Mah W, Kim E. Autism spectrum disorder causes, mechanisms, and treatments: focus on neuronal synapses. 2013 August -
  4. Bolton PF et al. Association between idiopathic infantile macrocephaly and autism spectrum disorders. 2001 September -
  5. Harel-Gadassi A et al. Risk for ASD in Preterm Infants: A Three-Year Follow-Up Study. 2018 November -
  6. El-Rashidy O et al. Ketogenic diet versus gluten free casein free diet in autistic children: a case-control study. 2017 August -
  7. Lee RWY et al. A modified ketogenic gluten-free diet with MCT improves behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder. 2018 February -

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