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A brief review of research on the use of ketogenic diets for Autism

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Some of you are searching for treatments for Autism. This is a website focused on the use of ketogenic diets as a treatment for mood and neurological disorders. So it is well past time that provides some of the information out there, so you can learn all the ways you (or your child) can feel better.

What this article is and what it is not

Some of you identify as neurodivergent or your child as neurodivergent and are not interested in modifying these differences. That’s Ok.

You may also not want to participate in a discussion that sees these differences as pathology. If that is the case, this is not the post for you. This post is not about that philosophical discussion. 

This post is for people who are experiencing distress around what they experience as symptoms or symptoms causing their children distress, and they deserve to know all the ways they can feel better. 

And I am going to tell them.

To maintain the integrity of the space and intent of this post, comments will be disabled.

So with that caveat, let’s begin.👇

Pilot Prospective Follow-Up Study

This first one looked at the role of the ketogenic diet on the behavior of children with Autism. It was a pilot prospective follow-up study carried out on 30 children (ages 4-10) with autistic behavior. It was 6 months long, with continuous administration for four weeks, interrupted by 2-week diet-free intervals. 7 participants could not tolerate the diet, but five did adhere to the diet for 1-2 months and then discontinued it. 

Of the 18 who adhered to the diet, improvement was seen in ALL participants in several parameters of the Childhood Autism Rating Scale. 

  • 2 participants experienced>12 units of improvement on the scale
  • 8 participants experienced an average improvement of >8-12 units 
  • 8 other participants experienced minor improvement between 2-8 units

The data was preliminary (2005) but shows some evidence that the ketogenic diet can be used to treat autistic behavior as an additional or alternative therapy.

I don’t know if any drugs that can replicate these results. Do you?

Case-Control Study using Modified-Atkins Ketogenic

Here is another one. A case-control study in 45 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) looked at the effect of a Modified-Atkins #ketogenic diet, a casein and gluten-free diet, and a control group. Those on the ketogenic diet improved the Childhood Autism Rating Scale scores AND Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist scores. 

The study found that the Modified Atkins #ketogenic diet was superior in Childhood Autism Rating Scale improvement compared to the gluten-free, casein-free diet. h

Clinical Trial using Modified-Atkins Ketogenic

A small but recent (2018) clinical trial in 15 children with Autism investigated the effect of a modified gluten-free #ketogenic diet supplemented with MCT providing ketosis for 3 months.  

The children significantly improved in comparison scores, total scores, and social affect categories of the Autism Diagnostic Observations Schedule. They also improved imitation and body function measured on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale after 3 months. 

At 6 months, 10 of the participants maintained this improvement of scores in the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. However, no difference was observed for restricted and repetitive behaviors. Caregivers reported improvement in sociability, focus, and hyperactivity. Which is a big win for these families.

Is a Ketogenic Diet Feasible in Children with Autism?

This article says yes, with the caveat that it is more difficult depending on disease severity.

Underlying Mechanisms

There are several pathways that a ketogenic diet influences that may cause the improvements we see in this population. That would be a whole other article. But luckily, someone has already edited an amazing one, and you can find it on Amazon in a wonderful book chapter.

CHENG, N., MASINO, S. A., & RHO, J. M. (2022). Ketogenic Diet, Social Behavior, and Autism. Ketogenic Diet and Metabolic Therapies: Expanded Roles in Health and Disease, 154.


I hope this article helps you on your journey to know all the ways you and/or your child can feel better! If you are a healthcare practitioner helping these families, now you know about this treatment, and you can offer it to your patients. A win-win for all involved. #autism #ketogenic #research #brainhealthmatters #ASD

I do not work with or specialize in Autism Spectrum Disorders. But I want you to know that you can find an experienced dietician for this purpose through a wonderful organization called The Charlie Foundation