The keto diet and autism connection is not often discussed. However, if someone you love grapples with autism, or associated symptoms such as seizures, help may be on the way.
In this article, we explore if embarking on the keto diet is worth your time.
What is Autism?
Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a number of neurodevelopmental conditions. All the conditions grouped as ASD are characterized by impairment in communication and social interaction. The behavior of people with autism is usually repetitive such as hand flapping and stereotyped body movements. In fact, a person with autism is unable to understand how others think or feel. They respond by not being able to express themselves. ASD is not limited to a particular group of people, and it can affect any race and gender. However, it may occur more frequently in males than in females.
There are different types of autism classified based on specifiers. For example, autism could occur with or without language and intellectual impairment. It could also occur in association with another neurodevelopmental or behavioral disorder and even genetics and other medical conditions. The symptoms of autism usually appear in childhood but can also be present in later years. Like the subtypes, the symptoms of autism are also grouped based on certain factors. One of such factors is the repetitive pattern of behavior while the other is the impairment in communication and social interaction.
The exact cause of autism is not clear, but several factors may predispose an individual to this health condition. Some of these risk factors include genetic mutations, metabolic imbalances, genetic disorders, and environmental toxins. While there is no specific cure for autism, there are different therapies that can help with the management of the symptoms. Behavioural, speech, and physical therapy are methods that can be used to manage the symptoms. Although there is no specific diet created for autism, some authorities suggest that switching diets can be helpful. One of such diets that have been proposed to be effective is the ketogenic diet.
How the Keto Diet Can Help With Autism
It has been mentioned that the keto diet consists of low carbohydrates and high fats with moderate protein. This diet forces the body to stop using glucose for fuel. To continue providing fuel, the body turns to fats. By burning fat, the body produces ketones by the process of ketosis. This diet has been used to treat seizures and is now popularly used to promote weight loss. It is believed that the keto diet was successful in managing seizures by promoting modifications in gene expression. This modification may be as a result of the fact that the brain now makes use of ketones instead of glucose.
In one study, thirty children with autism were placed on the keto diet. The diet was administered for a duration of six months. The diet also consisted of 30% fresh cream, 30% medium-chain triglyceride oil, 11% saturated fat, 10% protein, and 19% carbohydrates. The children were also given vitamin and mineral supplements in addition to the diet. At the end of the six months, the children who continued with the diet achieved ketosis. A total of five children could not continue with the diet since no improvement was noticed while 18 of the 30 children continued the diet.
The results? The remaining 18 children who continued the keto diet for the entire six months experienced improvement in their symptoms. There were improvements in speech, social interactions, and cooperation. It was also observed that two children out of the 18 had marked improvement in their symptoms. These children were able to leave special education classes to mainstream education. But what happened when these children went back to a regular diet? The results of the study show that the improvements were maintained despite the change in diet.
There are, however, limitations in this study that must be mentioned. On the one hand, improvement in symptoms of autism was only noticed in children whose symptoms were mild. In severe cases, there was no improvement noticed. On the other hand, the results of the study may not be reliable. This is because there was no control used during the study. While the results of this study were successful to an extent, the research on keto for autism is still limited. There are, however, indications that the keto diet may be a good option in the management of the symptoms of autism.
Autism is one of the most complex health conditions that is known to man. Many factors have been mentioned as the cause or risk factor of this health condition. Some of these risk factors include environmental factors and genetics. As the number of children with autism continues to increase, it is necessary to explore other therapeutic methods to manage the symptoms. Some authorities have linked several diets as a means to manage these symptoms. A study first performed on mice with similar behaviors as humans with autism showed that the ketogenic diet might reverse the symptoms.
The keto diet has been shown to work for epileptic seizures. Its effectiveness is backed by several scientific research. For autism, it is difficult to say that the ketogenic diet will have similar results. The research on keto for autism is limited, but this does not in any way suggest that the diet may not be helpful. In fact, from the study described above, there was relative success and improvement in symptoms of the children. There were also reports of cases that were unsuccessful due to the severity of the symptoms. It is necessary to speak to a health professional before deciding if the keto diet and autism are the best match for your specific circumstances.